Research also Tells Us: There’s a Newer Solution and It’s Animated Gifs

~2 min read

Recent research points to a newer solution that’s cheaper to produce and faster to market, but it comes without all the video bells and whistles. It also lacks similar Pearson user research to ensure market success. But what if existing users span wider age and socioeconomic ranges?

“Animated gifs are more engaging than videos.” This statement is found on p. 575 of the 2016 Fast, Cheap, and Good: Why Animated GIFs Engage Us study. This work was done by Yahoo researchers after Yahoo bought Tumblr. They studied 3.9 million Tumblr posts, user interviews, and more than 50 research papers.

Animated GIFs are on a continuum between images and videos. All of which fall into “a picture is worth a thousand words” category. We’ve previously relied on images and videos. Animated GIFs now expand our communication space. They’re also cheap and fast to market.

Not surprisingly, animated gifs are widely used and incredibly popular today. To quote Modicum,  “Giphy… serves more than 1 billion GIFs per day to more than 100 million Daily Active Users.” Usage surged since 1987 when CompuServe invented them. CompuServe needed a color image format for the file downloads. Their wild success might be due to the fact that the patent(s) expired in 2004 and few violators were prosecuted. With these changes animated gifs could be more quickly and widely produced. But ease of production and speed to market doesn’t account for widespread acceptance.  

To understand the features that popularized them, the Yahoo researchers “… found that the

  • animation
  • lack of sound
  • immediacy of consumption
  • low bandwidth
  • minimal time demands…

were significant factors in making GIFs the most engaging content on Tumblr.” ([bullets added] p. 575)

Statements made in user interviews flesh out the bulleted list above. Users cited motion without sound and the lack of a play button as key. They also saw an element of mystery that compels the user to slow down and pay attention. According to the study, earlier work in cognitive psychology found that we’re drawn to motion.

According to The Huffington Post, a House Judiciary aide said the committee is always exploring new ways of communicating. “GIF op-eds are being used more and more, including here in the halls of Congress….”  A popular eLearning site has a list of reasons to use animated gifs in eLearning courses including:

  • Easy to consume: “According to Twitter, in 2015 over 100 million GIFs were shared between people.”
  • They enhance content.

These findings show the appeal of animated GIFs to audiences other than GenZ.

It’s interesting that endless looping motion compels users to slow down. Stopping long enough in a busy world to pay attention is something worth pursuing! How to get videos and animated gifs to market while maximizing ROI is challenging. Next week, I’ll share the collaborative effort that’s made these solutions available.

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