Tanya Wilson
Oct 19, 2017

The untapped potential of GIFs

The founder of a festival celebrating GIFs as an art form explains why marketers should think more expansively about this curiously powerful format.

If you think this still image is interesting, wait until you see the GIF version below.
If you think this still image is interesting, wait until you see the GIF version below.

Most of us usually associate GIFs with humorous, short-form content that lives mainly in mobile and has made its way into the lexicon to replace words and convey emotions in social media conversations.

We decided to turn this pre-conception of GIFs on its head and celebrate its hypnotic qualities as a form of art. As part of GIF Fest, we commissioned 50 GIFs and launched an open call for submissions from the creative industry. Over 500 entries later, it was very apparent that GIFs are a medium artists, designers, illustrators and photographers love to experiment with.

We created a whole event experience out of GIFs by displaying 90 of them in ways people had never before seen—vertically on plasma screens, on giant LEDs, through projections and more. Thousands of young people came to the event which was an Instagrammable paradise as they challenged themselves to capture their favourite GIFs in the most original ways. GIFs were created out of GIFs. The humble GIF was elevated to a form of artistic expression, enjoyed and appreciated like art in a museum.

What is it about GIFs that make them so appealing? According to Heidi Lahtinen, content strategist with BBH Singapore, “GIFs seem to touch a cord with a deep-rooted human need to experience positive emotions in repetition. We get so involved in that feeling that we want to feel it over and over again. Like how children want the same story read to them over and over again”.

What implications do artists applying their skills to this medium have for the communication and advertising industry?

‘Visual toys’

Research shows that the average attention span stands at eight seconds and that the brains of young people have evolved to process more information at faster speeds. Grabbing attention remains the age-old challenge for brands, but can GIFs actually encourage lateral thinking and promote observation?

Javier Arres Sneakers Factory
Javier Arres Coffee Machine

One glance is never enough to appreciate the level of detail in the work of Spanish illustrator and GIF maker Javier Arres. This approach would be ideal for any brand or company that wanted to visualise a complex process.

‘Living photos’

Companies like National Geographic have caught on, and their Instagram feeds are infinitely more eye-catching as a result. The implications for the tourism industry amongst others are great.

Aik Beng Chia

A cinemagraph starts with a video, where some parts are static and others are moving. The result is a ‘Living photo’ that grabs attention, mesmerizes and transports the viewer to another place, in a way that far surpasses static photographs.

How much more impactful in capturing an atmosphere is this event photo of GIF Fest as a cinemagraph than a static photo would be?

Dynamic branding

GIFs can be so much more impactful than longer branding videos. Indeed, Tim Lindley, managing partner at Black Sheep Studios (and formerly Red Bull's head of owned media and communications in Asia) believes brands should use moments to tell stories. “Brands want to tell the whole story, but often the viewer doesn't care," he says. "We need to lose our brand arrogance and focus on the moments that matter most to the audience.

Campari, by Javier Arres

This year the GIF celebrates its 30th birthday. Are GIFs here to stay? As attention spans get shorter and the need for quality content gets greater, I believe they are. And the secret—as with all great content—is behind the creator. Looking to independent artists and collaborating with them may be the solution to uncovering and exploiting the full potential of GIFs.

Tanya Wilson is a marketing and PR consultant and co-founder of GIF Fest and Eyeyah! Follow giffestsg on Instagram for many other beautiful GIFs created by artists.


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