Branded GIFs: The Do’s and Don’ts

by Federica Rustico

12 min read
Last Updated: May 26, 2023

If you're just starting out in GIF marketing, it's important to know what you should be doing and how to avoid common mistakes. There is a tremendous opportunity in GIF marketing! To put it into perspective for you, more than 10 billion GIFs are exchanged every day. But if you want to leverage this channel, you need a solid GIF content strategy. Pepsi, Gucci, McDonald's, Netflix, Adobe and tens of thousands of other companies are already leveraging GIFs to increase brand awareness and give their customers a way to use their branded GIFs to spread their voice on social media and messaging apps. Don’t you think it’s time for your brand to join them? 

What makes a good branded GIF?

You probably make use of branded GIFs on a regular basis without even knowing it. A branded GIF is a GIF that is created with the intention of generating awareness for a business by providing material that people want to share and that enhances their discussions. If done correctly, branded GIFs can have a tremendous impact on your business. For the sake of clarity, when we talk about branded GIFs, we’re not suggesting that you need to bathe your GIFs in logos and other branding features in order for them to be considered branded. When we say branded GIFs, we mean that they revolve around your personality and the vibe of your business. It's possible that all you need is a good sense of humor to give a GIF your own distinct flavor. If you want to include a logo, you certainly can, but try to keep it understated. The best branded GIFs are those in which the brand is only subtly present. Therefore, even though the user might not be aware that they are using a branded GIF, on some level they are having a positive experience with your brand even though they aren't aware of it.

The most effective branded GIFs put emphasis on the content rather than the brand itself. If the content of the GIF is outstanding, it will be shared and viewed by millions of people, and the brand recognition will take care of itself automatically. If the GIF is extremely branded, it will get you some undeniable brand exposure; but it’s highly likely that the number of views will be substantially lower than if the GIF had only a moderate amount of branding. What’s crucial is to keep in mind that the purpose of a branded GIF is to be amusing and to add value to the conversations in which it is utilized; consumers do not want to send advertisements to their friends. When a GIF is highly branded, there is a risk that it will annoy its viewers. This type of advertising is equivalent to aggravating people with a pre-roll ad or an interruptive ad in the middle of the content that people truly want to see. So before creating any GIFs, always ask yourself these two questions:

1. Is this GIF appropriate for use?

2. In what context would I make use of this GIF?

Tips for improving your branded GIF 

All very interesting, but what gets people to want to use, share, and find your branded GIFs in the first place? In order to perfect your GIF marketing approach, you need to listen closely to the following word of advice.

1. Incorporate your brand subtly

Whether through a watermark, product placement, or other means, you should ensure that your brand is prominently shown in all of your GIFs (color, font, etc.). Keep the brand identity simple. Brands can give consumers a voice by providing them with an outlet for self-expression through GIFs, without expecting anything in return. Conversations are better with GIFs. Branded GIFs are most successful when they provide some form of amusement to the audience before introducing the brand in question.

Put your logo in the bottom right corner as a watermark if you have to. To avoid distracting the viewer, it is recommended that your logo be made grey and opaque. If your GIF's content is excellent, it will likely be viewed again, at which point the user will see your watermark.

Amazon does an excellent job of gently integrating their brand. Their logo is subtly integrated into the lighthearted GIF, but it isn't the focal point. Upon first viewing, the GIF may not seem branded, but upon closer inspection, the branding becomes apparent. You get to know the Amazon brand for more than 15 seconds, and you come away thinking they are amusing and witty. You've successfully engaged the customer's sense of humor.

GIF by Amazon - Find & Share on GIPHY

2. Make a meme out of it

Both memes and GIFs are lighthearted and casual in their approach, typically making cultural or emotional connections. The finest GIFs, like the one from Amazon up there, often have "meme" text that describes the image. If you want to turn your video into a "reaction GIF," this is the method to do it. Captioning a GIF can improve its chances of appearing in organic search results for the keywords used in the caption.

GIF engines will analyze the GIF for text to determine its subject matter. Your GIF will be more easily understood. Therefore, if you include your desired keywords as text within your GIF, you are instructing the GIF search engine as to which search phrases your GIF should appear for. Apple posted a great reaction GIF in 2020. They posted a GIF of the Grinch smiling to their Twitter account when they announced the launch of their new AirPods Max headphones. The GIF was accompanied by the caption “Oh, what fun.”

Another example of a company who did a reaction meme with a GIF is Taco Bell. In 2020, they posted a GIF of SpongeBob SquarePants doing a happy dance to their Twitter account when they announced the launch of their new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco. The GIF was accompanied by the caption “It’s here.”

3. Make use of stickers

Using GIFs is a terrific way to insert your brand into personal interactions within messaging apps. Instagram and Snapchat Stories GIF Stickers are the most effective way to get your message out to consumers. Consumers nowadays frequently exchange both GIFs and Stickers amongst one another. So naturally, they will be widely exchanged by customers after you post them to a popular GIF search engine. For maximum brand exposure, you should employ both strategies. If instead you lack the resources to produce high-quality creative for both channels, you should prioritize those in which your target audience is most likely to be found. 

Start with the classic GIFs people are already using in chats to connect with them. Using GIF stickers is a good first step if you want to raise your profile on social media. When customers become advocates for your brand, you win. At some point, you'll want to increase your GIF presence to include both to achieve optimal exposure.

4. Incorporate relatable human feelings

Emotions are the primary purpose of GIFs. For this reason, many viral GIFs are reaction GIFs, or GIFs that may be used to respond with an emotional expression. It's considerably more entertaining and expressive to send an animated GIF of someone's "enthusiastic" reaction than to simply write "so excited" to them.

For example, a beverage company should focus on the emotion of "thirsty" if their product helps people quench their thirst. Even if your product has nothing to do with how people feel, you may still capitalize on the popularity of GIFs by catering to the most common reactions and expressions. Coca Cola is a great example of this. They are able to associate their famed beverage to emotions of excitement, belonging, family or anything else that comes to mind. During the Copa America in 2016, they created the below GIF.

Soccer Win GIF by The Coca-Cola Company - Find & Share on GIPHY

5. Conduct keyword analysis

In order for your GIFs to be discovered, you must first conduct extensive keyword research. Keywords should not be an afterthought. You can spend hours crafting brilliant content, but if your GIFs aren't properly tagged with search terms, they won't be viewed by the people you want to see them. Branding your GIFs using keywords is a must. Prior to beginning to make GIFs, it is highly suggested that keyword research be conducted.

The campaign and GIF objectives should go hand in hand. What do you want others to associate your GIF with? You can find out what people are searching for and what keywords you should include in your content by using the Tenor Insights tool. An improved possibility of ranking can be achieved by the targeted creation of content around particular keywords. For example, HBO does a great job at grabbing clips from its famed TV series and turning them into shareable GIFs. For this particular GIF from White Lotus, they’d like to rank for the term “Happy new year”, but it’s a very competitive keyword.

Happy New Year GIF by HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

Using keyword tools, you can uncover more new year’s-related keywords that may give you a higher search engine ranking. For example, HBO also uses less competitive keywords like "exciting”, “drinking”, or “cheers” to have a higher chance of rising in the search engine rankings. So if you know what keywords people are using to find your GIFs, you can use that information to craft material that will help you rank higher in natural search results.

6. Make sure the timing is perfect

It can be challenging to convey your message or tell a story in such a condensed format. As a rule of thumb, a GIF shouldn't be any longer than six seconds. Strobe-like effects could be triggered with a duration of less than 2 seconds. We’ve said it again and again —the attention span of a human being is decreasing rapidly, so if your GIF is any longer than 6 seconds, you may start to lose some of your audience.

Make sure your GIFs loop smoothly too. Make sure your GIFs have a distinct beginning and end in order to achieve a seamless loop. Look at the way the GIF loops back from the last frame to the beginning frame and make sure it's smooth. With no jarring shifts in hue or pace, the transfer will be successful.

7. Make animated GIFs for any event

The fact that GIFs last forever is no excuse to generate a handful of brand equity-focused GIFs merely to say you did. If you do this, you'll be passing up a golden chance. You need to start making GIFs for every possible circumstance. You need seasonal and holiday-themed GIFs, as well as GIFs that reflect the current mood and important cultural movements to back up your main marketing campaigns.

Using GIFs is a terrific way to get your brand recognized by the general public. As soon as they see a word or cultural phenomena reaching critical mass, astute businesses jump in. The public is presumably already engaging with your company on social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, where astute references to pop culture are likely being made. Additionally, at periods of peak virality for user searches, you should create GIFs and GIF stickers to connect your business with popular culture events. For example, the NFL created this GIF in 2022. It’s highly shareable if you feel upset, something didn't go your way or you’re frustrated. 

Oh No Omg GIF by NFL - Find & Share on GIPHY

What not to do with your GIF ad campaign

Here are three absolute no-nos for your GIF marketing strategy. 

1. Do not go overboard with your logo

Users will avoid using a sponsored GIF if they notice any branding at all in it. People would rather share an amusing image than an advertisement with their loved ones. Branded GIFs are created with the intention of enhancing online communication and providing amusement for consumers. People will take notice if your brand is forced into the middle of the situation. If your GIF is overly branded, no one will want to share it because we have been conditioned to reject advertisements.

You should prioritize fun when making a GIF to encourage sharing. People will watch something more than once if it makes them happy or laugh. Subtly incorporating your brand will be seen on the second or third loop of the GIF, and people will have a favorable impression of your brand (whether consciously or subconsciously) because you gave them a tool to express themselves in the moment.

2. You can't just recycle old ads

You may not believe this but I promise you this happens a lot. When a company decides to go headfirst into the world of GIFs, they often start by carelessly chopping up some of their older commercials into a few GIFs. It may seem like the most logical and straightforward starting point, but it actually isn't.

If you want your content (and advertising) to perform well on a particular marketing platform, you'll need to tailor it to that platform's specific audience and goals. You wouldn't just upload your 30 or 60-second TV ad to Instagram, would you? If you want your material to become viral, you need to get creative in ways that are tailored to each individual platform.

It's best not to use your previous videos for anything else unless you're a media organization, a TV show/movie, or a sports team. If you must recycle ads or other video footage, look for clips that are humorous or might be utilized as reactions, and turn them into memes with clever captions.

3. Never make your product the focal point

This contradicts everything you've learned about marketing up until this point. Product placement in GIFs, however, should be more understated. Including a picture of your goods in a GIF is acceptable if it is a physical good. This is a great strategy to increase brand awareness.

For your GIF to go viral, there must be some sort of entertaining or helpful action taking place within it. You may have shot a high-quality close-up of your product for a TV commercial, but that doesn't mean people will want to send it around as a GIF.

Wrapping up

If you stick to these rules, you'll have no trouble making GIFs that customers and brand advocates alike will adore. By allowing your customers to personalize your brand, you are giving them a voice. All of your interactions with customers shouldn't be purely transactional if you want to succeed in modern marketing. The best way to gain someone's trust is to give to them without expecting anything in return, and GIFs are the gift that keeps on giving.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a GIF successful?

You want to make sure that what you're saying is easy to understand and brief. GIFs are great because of the immediate impact they have on the audience and the ability to keep their focus despited their reduced attention spans.

How do you make a GIF popular?

First off, try to ride a trend or a specific event or occasion on the calendar. Then, try to think about the context in which a person could use your GIF. Then conduct a keyword research to rank not only for the most competitive words but also for less obvious but related keywords.

What are branded GIFs?

A branded GIF is a GIF that is created with the intention of generating awareness for a business by providing material that people want to share and that enhances their discussions. If done correctly, branded GIFs can have a tremendous impact on your business.