Google image search anything and tack “gif” on the end. Save one. Do it again. And again. If this is your first GIF search, it should definitely not be your last. That is, unless you’re not interested in boosting reader engagement and earning credibility in the content game. In which case, you’re not doing yourself or your brand any favors.

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Only within recent years has the GIF become, in and of itself, a new form of communication, particularly among millennials. This generation texts them, Tweets them, sends them in reply-all emails and spams Google Chat conversations with them. But, when creating content for email marketing campaigns that reflect and promote a brand, there are a few rules that must be followed.


Rule #1: Focus on Your Audience, Not Yourself

Basically, know your demographic. What you think is perfect and hilarious may not translate properly if you’re disregarding your audience’s taste and knowledge. As mentioned above, if you’re targeting millennials, proceed with the Popular Movie Quote GIF, which is usually a win no matter the context; however, if your demographic is 40-something women who wear expensive pantsuits, err on the side of conservative and solid relevance. For example, try something like the simple shoe GIF on The (Chloe) Conspiracy.

There are exceptions to this rule. Some GIFs are just universally understood across all ages and genders such as this puppy and kitten GIF.

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Rule #2: Mind the Device

Thinking about the viewing device is especially important for email campaigns. The average time to make an impression via email is just 15–20 seconds, reports Marketing Sherpa, which is a problem if your GIF-filled email isn’t loading quickly enough. What’s more: according to Campaign Monitor, 41 percent of email opens now happen on mobile devices. So, if someone is using an average speed connection and has to wait more than 15 seconds for an email to load, there’s a good chance he or she will lose interest and move onto something else.

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To be fair, technology like 4G LTE and the newest smart devices like the Kindle Fire and iPhone 6 are among the fastest on the market, and email campaigns featuring GIFs will load faster than on many other devices. Connectivity speed is increasing everywhere, so it’s only a matter of time until everyone is on a super fast phone. In the meantime, you can minimize the size of GIFs with small dimensions, simple animations and only a few frames.

Rule #3: Less Is More.

GIFs add a little flair to your message without being complicated or over the top. In an article posted by ActionRocket HQ, Elliot Ross lists Chanel, Joules, Kate Spade, Net-a-Porter and MAC Cosmetics as great examples of using subtle GIFs in email marketing. He says the strategy is “fairly old school technology, but it can be really effective when combined with the right corrective message.”

In another post about cinemagraphs, Design DPI shows how to use GIFs simply for aesthetics. The post even goes as far as to identifying all of the colors, size and frames used to create each of the gorgeous, barely-moving images.