GIFs – love them or hate them, these bite-size animations have proven themselves to be a powerful tool in social media marketing strategies. What was once just a niche medium for  communicating sentiments without text, has evolved into a highly effective tactic that businesses leverage to deliver messages to their target audience. The proliferation of GIFs and memes has given us a fun way to flex our creativity and engage audiences with a unique, more lighthearted and relatable approach. While there’s no doubt that GIFs and memes excel at grabbing people’s attention, using a GIF that doesn’t fit your message can be confusing and counterproductive. Overusing or improperly using GIFs and memes can come off as outdated, uncool, and downright cringeworthy, so it’s crucial that their use be strategic and sparse. 

Read on to learn more about what exactly memes and GIFs are, when and how to use them, the benefits of GIFs on social media campaigns, and whether or not we think they’re losing their cool-factor.  

What Are GIFs and Memes?

GIF, an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, is a method of image compression that was released in 1987 by a team at online services provider CompuServe. The goal in developing the GIF was to make it easier to distribute image files without using up a significant amount of memory, while also preventing loss of data during file size enlargement. And while the use of the Graphics Interchange Format to compress static images dwindled over time in favor of newer, more effective alternative file formats, its ability to store multiple images in one file made it ideal for use in animation sequences.

schitt's creek moira rose saying what is it

The GIF89a spec was added to the Graphic Control Extension (GCE), enabling us to display animations in the form of the nifty little video clips that we know today as GIFs. Remember Netscape? You can thank them for the Netscape Application Block, which enables the GIF’s infinite animation loop. Anytime we use “GIF” moving forward, we’re referring to animated GIFs.

So what’s the difference between a meme and a GIF? A meme is similar to a GIF in that it functions to communicate an emotion or message via creative and relatable imagery. A GIF is not considered a meme, however, until it has evolved into a shared cultural experience. Memes, typically static images that sometimes include a caption within the image, act as a vehicle for cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be shared through various mediums and imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. While very different in their essence, both memes and GIFs can help provide a more engaging and successful way to generate unique content and connect with audiences.

Examples of GIFs and Memes

The torrent of GIFs and memes on the Internet is vast and varied and growing every day. Whatever message you’re trying to send, there is something to choose. Below are some examples of GIFs or memes for all types of occasions.

schitt's creek alexis rose hair flip
seinfeld celebrating
thank you gif

Are GIFs and Memes Outdated?

There have been recent talks on the value and relevance of GIFs and memes, and whether they still carry the same effect as they did a couple of years ago. According to a Vice article, the younger generations (i.e. Gen Z and Gen Alpha) are deeming GIFs and memes as “uncool,” associating them with the older generations (i.e., Baby-Boomers, Gen X, and even “Elder Millennials”). “Anytime I see someone use a reaction GIF I immediately know they are above the age of 33” said one Twitter user. Ouch. That does NOT mean, however, that they’re entirely unpopular! Mentioned in the same article, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, GIF usage went up by 33% in one month. 

Some critics argue that the usage of GIFs can be perceived as “lazy” since they are used in lieu of actually saying something. There’s also the issue of oversaturation. Some GIFs have grown so popular and have been so overused that audiences are sick of seeing them. But, wait…don’t you want to use popular GIFs that have reached meme status? Yes, you do, but only early on. If you’re late to hop on the bandwagon, you’ve missed your window to come off as relevant and amusing, and, instead, your business will look slow, out of touch, outdated, and cringey. Bit harsh, but true. An example of a GIF that is now considered overused is Leonardo DiCaprio from The Great Gatsby raising a toast:

great gatsby toast

It’s hard to generalize the entire population’s opinion and usage of GIFs based on just one generation’s claims. The younger generations will always pick on various aspects of the older generations that they’ve deemed uncool and obsolete – and let’s be honest, they’re often right. We did it to our parents and our kids will do it to us too. This attitude breeds innovation and creativity. However, trends tend to be cyclical (e.g. The water-logged JNCO jeans of the early 90s, a style we thought would never be resurrected, have made a fierce comeback with Gen Z), so while GIFs may experience a slump in popularity in the short-term, they’ve survived ups and downs for over three decades and will very likely maintain a presence on social media platforms in the long-term. 

So how do you reap the full benefits of using GIFs in your content? Here’s some tips for how to stay ahead of the curve and use GIFs in a way that is timely, relevant, and interesting: 

  • Use them sparingly and only when they will add value to your message.
  • The best memes and GIFs are the most recent and relevant – pay close attention to social media to ensure you’re not late to a trend.
  • Have eyes on all of the different major platforms, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, etc.  
  • Know your audience so you can strategically select a GIF/meme that speaks the language of your target group.
  • Make sure you’re creating something that’s unique and easy to understand. 
  • Feel free to use GIFs more liberally in comment sections of posts – especially when responding to a followers comment – compared to the main content of the post itself.

The Benefits of Using GIFs and Memes

Aside from its popularity concerns, there’s still a great value in using GIFs and memes, especially for social media campaigns.

Imagery Says More Than Words

One of the most popular uses of GIFs and memes on social media is engaging with audiences on an emotional level with the intent of eliciting an emotional response. Depending on the event or type of post, GIFs can be great for adding humor or excitement to the content being promoted and allows your brand’s personality to shine.

They Are Easy to Consume

These days, not everyone wants to spend a lot of time reading to understand and receive new information. According to a Microsoft study, consumers’ attention spans have dwindled down to just 8 seconds, which is why GIFs are an ideal tool to help your audience grasp what you’re trying to share with them as quickly and easily as possible. For instance, rather than a long-winded video showing customers how to use your product or service, you can create a concise GIF showing a quick and easy how-to. Also, GIFs are easily shareable compared to a long video file or text.

They Are Simple to Make and Curate

GIFs add value without much effort. There are many online tools available for choosing or making  GIFs, such as Flixier, Adobe Creative Suite, Crello, Giphy, etc., and it only takes a few minutes. No prior experience is needed – all you need are videos or images and an idea to get your GIF moving. The investment of time and effort are miniscule compared to the resulting impact. According to a case study conducted by Marketing Sherpa, Dell experienced a 42% increase in click rate with their first GIF-centered email effort.

Show Off Your Brand’s Personality

Memes and GIFs are a great way to show off your brand’s personality without having to overthink how you want to come across. Building your brand with personalized imagery and animated sequences makes it easier to resonate with your group of targeted audiences and become part of a social conversation. A custom GIF sets your company apart from the traditional business model on social media and shows your audience that there’s a real, interesting, fabulous person behind the screen.

Showcases your Products

GIFs aren’t just for amusing commentary. They’re also a great way to showcase the nuances of your product in a way that can’t be conveyed via static images or text. No matter what the product is, GIFs are a fun and effective way to show the product and what it does. You can give your audience a closer look at the cooler details of your product, which can motivate them to learn more about your company and your product, and eventually purchase what you’re offering.

“Just GIF with It”

The benefits of GIFs and benefits of memes cannot be overstated. Properly used, GIFs and memes can pack a real punch in the content ring, which is a fiercely competitive space. Since everyone knows now that content is king, it’s crucial to leverage proven methods to help your content stand out above the competition. Movement is eye-catching and attracts attention, and unique, clever content holds that attention. To ensure your GIFs are making the right impact, review the best practices we’ve covered above: use sparingly, speak to your audience, keep up with the trends, only use GIFs that add value to your content, make sure it’s easy to understand, showcase your company’s unique personality, and focus on developing an emotional connection with your audience. 

Those are all the tips and tricks we have to GIF you for now. 

just go with it jennifer aniston

About the Author

Yasaman Sadeghi is a senior account executive on Firebrand’s digital marketing team, with a focus on SEO, PPC, and social media. She’s always looking to learn the latest developments in digital marketing strategies and strives to provide the best results for her clients.