Monday, April 23, 2018

A Guide to GIFs

While nothing new, GIFs (an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format) have become a fundamental form of digital expression. GIFs were created in 1987 by Steve Wilhite, a programmer at CompuServe, as a new way to present a moving image. In an age of social media, they have morphed into a means of expressing complex feelings and thoughts more effectively than words and photographs.

Public interest in GIFs has increased dynamically over the past five years and is still on the rise. In 2017, the GIF celebrate its 30th anniversary. According to some digital marketing experts, it was also the year when the GIF reached its highest potential yet in the digital marketing industry.

Very few things (other than, heaven forbid, actual human interaction) can convey emotion like an animated GIF. The entertainment value of GIFs is pretty obvious and in recent years, brands have also recognized the business value. When compared to photos, GIFs are more appealing and more effective in digital marketing strategy. When compared to videos, GIFs take less time to create and are cheaper and easier to make.

The most used websites and apps for finding and creating GIFs include Giphy, GifBin, Gifmaker, ExGif, MakeAGif, ImgFlip, Phhhoto, and Boomerang (owned by Instagram). Giphy, leading GIF database and search engine, serves more than 1 billionGIFs per day  to over 100 million active daily users! Twitter, Facebook and many other popular social media and messaging platforms integrate native GIF searching into their platforms and sites like BuzzFeed have built content marketing empires by using GIFs in their infamous listicles.

But, using someone else’s content when creating and sharing GIFs has the potential to invite intellectual property infringement issues, especially given that many popular GIFs draw content from players like Disney and the NFL, which are notorious for being aggressive when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. Studios and sports leagues could decide to file lawsuits against GIF-based businesses, or they could use copyright notices to remove GIFs from websites and social media accounts. This has already occurred in the case of major sports events like the World Cup and the Olympics. Celebrities could also invoke right of publicity laws, which allow people to control how their image is used in public.

So, what does this mean you if you want to use GIFs in your brand/marketing strategy?
  • Be wary. The use of GIFs in digital marketing campaigns can be a bit of a minefield. There is a higher risk when the use is commercial and companies in the public light also make a much better target for a lawsuit.
  • Make your own. Instead of using other parties’ GIFs, the better option is to make your own using your own copyrighted material.
  • Get permission. When using GIFs that you do not create, get the permission of everyone featured in the clip, the copyright holder of the original image(s), and the person who created the GIF. There should also be appropriate licenses in place for commercial use.
  • Link to content. When using third-party GIFs, consider linking to those GIFs rather than embedding them in your own content.  
Just because other brands may get away with using GIFs in their digital marketing campaigns doesn’t mean it’s safe. Using GIFs without permission could surely invite a cease and desist from the original creators, copyright holders, or featured parties. It could create disruption (e.g. recreating and taking down content) and, if you’re really lucky, spending time (and money) with intellectual property lawyers!

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