The Drum social media manager Amy Houston searches for top brands to gauge how best to use gifs and looping videos to increase awareness, market their products, and, ultimately, in the meantime have some fun.

The humble GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) was first developed by computer scientists in ’87 and has since come a long way, much like the meme.

Gifs are used to spice up WhatsApp chats or tweets when they’re feeling a little lackluster, but there’s so much more to these fun short clips than meets the eye. You really are the gift that always passes … Sorry, I had to.

Last week, Spotify partnered with Giphy (the world’s largest gif portal) in a new partnership that allows users to discover music from artists like Nicki Minaj, Doja Cat and Post Malone through gifs. The unique partnership has inspired an online community of music fans who want to better network with each other and with their favorite artist and at the same time want to make room for new creative ways of communicating in social media. Giphy says it has “over 10 billion pieces” of “content” for daily user reach of over 700 million people to “help them express themselves and make their daily conversations more fun.”

So how can brands incorporate the humble GIF into social strategies?

Video strategies have grown in popularity in recent years due to TikTok and Instagram Reels. Showing personality is crucial for brands looking to build engaging audiences, and many have made it their business to create unique gifs and looped videos to convey their ethos, products and stimulate conversation.

Mental health charity Calm got creative with looping videos on Instagram to promote wellness and meditation, which were a much-needed form of escape during the pandemic. Tapping into this and responding to the needs of the audience has proven to be an effective tactic.

Using gifs and videos to highlight products on social media can feel less like a traditional ad that consumers may be more responsive to. Trying too hard to replicate an ad or to put the sales message above the quality of the creative won’t work, and “the main focus should be on creating content that the audience likes,” Simon Friend, Client Lead at the7stars , tells me about the creative process. Ultimately, it’s not about “hijacking the format in order to push a brand or a product into people’s faces”.

Starbucks used looping videos and gifs in its Christmas 2020 campaign and relied on a mix of animated photos and illustrations to highlight limited-edition flavors. Consumers often don’t have the time or inclination to scroll through menus, so this is a brilliant way to effectively spice things up.

Gifs offer brands an inexpensive way to show a 360 ° view of products. However, in any strategy, it is imperative to keep your customers’ needs first and “be authentic to your audience,” says Adam Harris, global director of Brand Partner Studio at Twitch. “Learn the language of the community you interact with and benefit from your interactions with them.”

Storytelling is an essential part of marketing and gifs can be used for just that. Visual language allows a brand’s voice to shine in ways that the text on a page may not have.

A good example of this is the way Google uses gifs on Instagram to promote various events. True to his style guide, the assets are produced with the immediately recognizable, strong brand colors. Brand identity across all communication channels is important and gifs shouldn’t be any different – social media moves fast and brands need to give their audience a reason to stop scrolling.

One of the best aspects of social media is the ability to be creative. Gifs and looped videos enable brands to communicate with their audiences in a more fun and enjoyable way. Standing out from the crowd, being consistent, and showcasing products in a modern way are all factors brands need to consider in their social strategy – and gifs can be a great way to take that into account.

Do you have a favorite brand campaign that used gifs? Join the conversation on social media with #TheDrumSocial