Why you need to make GIFs an essential part of your marketing strategy

Ah, the GIF. The tool of the trade for anyone looking for a killer Twitter takedown or for a fresh way to say WTF. If a picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture says all you’ll ever need.

The GIF — aka, Graphics Interchange Format — recently celebrated its 30th birthday, and even predates the World Wide Web itself. Originally created as a way to compress images with minimal data loss, the GIF has come a long way from its CompuServe bulletin board origins to its current status as the absolute staple of memes and internet culture.

Source: Giphy

First of all, let’s get one thing out the way: it is totally pronounced with a hard G, like “gift”. Forget that creator Steve Wilhite pronounces it “jif”: the G stands for “graphics” and, the last time I checked, we don’t go around saying ju-raphics.

So the GIF was created as a way to preserve bandwidth, back in the days when that actually mattered — back when our internet connections dealt in kilobits (56 of them, if you were lucky) rather than megabits. But why is the GIF still relevant, beloved and ubiquitous in an age where you can stream the Super Bowl on a device you carry round in your pocket?

Interest in the GIF over time

Let’s take a step back and consider precisely what a GIF actually is: a short, looping, engaging piece of content that usually makes sense as a standalone clip even when plucked out of its usual context and dropped in a completely new situation. For example, James Harden dancing works just as well on ESPN’s Instagram account as it does on an internet forum that has nothing to do with basketball. Or, a guy from Giant Bomb reacting to some unintentional innuendo in a subtle-but-universal way that led to him becoming “the most inescapable face on the internet” according to Polygon.

GIFs are also compulsive and require minimal-to-no interaction from the viewer. Where a video might take time to load, or need you to tap play (or — nightmare — autoplay with audio on public transport), GIFs play automatically. In an age of constant content — in our Twitter feeds, our WhatsApp groups, our Reddit threads — the shorter a piece of content, the more likely we are to consume it rather than scroll right on by.

Gameplay GIFS as marketing tools

But it’s not just internet culture that has claimed the GIF as a medium of choice. The format also finds a comfortable home in the world of games, particularly as gaming culture itself has become more widespread thanks to platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and social media. Ten or fifteen years ago, the only way to show off something cool that happened in a game was to hope that your friend was in the room at the same time; now, consoles come with built-in share buttons as standard.

As a result, an appetite has been created for gameplay clips of cool, scary, freaky or mind-blowing moments. The kind of short, bite-sized moments for which — you guessed it — a GIF is the perfect format. It could be an insane PUBG kill, a FIFA keeper having a moment to forget, a crazy display of twitch reactions in Fortnite, or flying across the map to blow your opponent off a building in Overwatch: they all lend themselves to a short, sharp, shareable GIF.

Source Giphy

The GIF, then, has become a core part of gaming communities, and in helping to both grow and strengthen those communities. It’s become the wait-what format of choice: when something unbelievable happens, a GIF is often how it gets shared with the wider world. Its brief, looping format means that multiple viewings are catered for — which is often crucial when trying to interpret a sensory overload of an Overwatch snippet, or a particularly complex turn in Hearthstone.

This means that GIFs are — or should be — a key component in the marketing toolset of a game developer and their marketing team. If your players are loving your game and experiencing moments that trigger emotions, then they’ll want to share that feeling with others. Zach Barth, founder of the studio behind the puzzle game Opus Magnum, realised that fans were going out of their way to share GIFs of their solutions on Reddit and Twitter — and so he added a GIF exporter to the game to make this easier for players. As he describes it, those GIFs became the “elevator pitch” for Opus Magnum: succinct and engaging summaries of why the game is great.

However, where the current generation of consoles packs an instant share button, mobile gaming doesn’t always come with the same level of built-in functionality. There are plenty of third-party ways to share mobile gameplay (we detailed a few of them in a recent article), but many have drawbacks that make sharing a little clunky. At Megacool, we’ve focussed on removing any friction from the sharing experience so that creating and sharing a gameplay GIF is a seamless, desirable action for the player.

This is a crucial point — your players may want to share some gameplay, but if it’s difficult or unintuitive to do so, they might change their mind or, even worse, become disengaged with the game overall. No-one wants to get caught up in messy pop-ups that detract from any enjoyment you’re having from playing. Instead of relying on players to press “record” at the right moment, Megacool’s SDK allows developers to detect a highlighted moment — for example, a few seconds before they set a new high-score, or at the culmination of a boss battle — and then serve that to the player as a GIF for them to potentially share at a natural time. That way the player can focus on the game instead of hitting “record” at the crucial moments.

The virality of gameplay GIFs

A gameplay GIF has incredible virality potential. Sites like Kotaku and IGN regularly curate the most outrageous GIFs into their articles, and community managers may cultivate the sharing of GIFs in the form of contests or GIF-of-the-week spotlights as ZeptoLab has done with their game C.A.T.S.

Because GIFs are synonymous with short and cool clips, they have remarkable credibility with their audience — when you start to watch a GIF, you expect to be entertained. And even if you’re not, hey, it only lasted a second or two.

For many gamers, they play with an aim of being “the one” who nails an unbelievable quad-kill or vaults to the top of the leaderboard — and then, having achieved that, to show it off to the world. This is our main goal at Megacool: help players to get those moments out into their social feeds or even sent directly to their friends via messaging services. These moments are crucial to generating the word-of-mouth buzz around your game that help it reach that tipping point where it climbs the download charts.

Source: Giphy