Virtual Reality! Robots! Tacos! These were the subjects that got people queuing at SXSW Interactive 2016 (I spent two hours waiting in line just to test out VR porn – more on that in a future article), but it was the humble animated GIF that had me leaving Austin’s Convention Centre the most excited.
Yes, animated GIFs! Use them or not, there’s no denying that those short, looping, silent moving images have pervaded the Internet to become a universally understood visual language of their own. In a world of 4K visuals, super fast fibre optic Internet and haptic technology, who could’ve guessed that would happen? I was lucky enough to attend Giphy CEO and co-founder Alex Chung’s “Why GIFs?” seminar in Texas and can report that they’re not just a fad dedicated to silly cat memes; in fact, your brands should take them very seriously.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. So by that logic, Chung calculates that if the average GIF contains sixty frames then they’re capable of conveying 60,000 words – the same as the average novel. Even I laughed at such a claim, but he demonstrated how words on a page or a static image on a site both struggle to convey human emotion as comprehensively as a GIF. How can you describe this reaction from Hilary Clinton during the Bhengazi hearing, never mind all the other misappropriations this same GIF could be used for across the web, without moving imagery? Nuances in her facial expressions, body language and behaviour would simply be lost. Chung explained that photographs are great at conveying nouns, but animated GIFs add the verbs which makes them the perfect medium for storytelling.
The ability to create GIFs used to be reserved for the design student glitterati, but with Facebook and Twitter recently launching GIF keyboards, the ability to add text to your Snapchats being a core part of the platform and the plethora of free GIF creator sites online, they’re now in the hands of the mass populous. Search “Happy” in Google Images and you’ll see a page full of the yellow smiley face that’s evolved over the last 30 years, but type the same phrase into Giphy and you’ll see what happiness looks like to people of the Internet right now.
So what’s the formula for the perfect GIF? Chung had already explained that they last 5 seconds on average, which coincidentally is the exact same length as the average user’s attention span for pre-roll video. When I asked him the question, he told me that “the perfect GIF is the perfect visual expression.” Simply put, if it’s an idea that you’d have, a GIF of it would be perfect. So the next time you want to describe “that feeling you get when…” someone buys/eats/drinks/uses your product, you may be surprised at how succinctly you can express it by simply using the visual language of animated GIFs.
Now if you don’t mind me, I’m off to queue for some of these…