An attempt to monetize GIFs made me realize that the format needs to die.
The New York Times reported that Giphy studios began creating original GIFs to appeal to brands and potential advertisers. The GIF database and search engine is hoping their homemade clips animation, minor celebrities and YouTube stars will become advertising or marketing material.
Absolut Vodka signed on as an advertiser. Vodka enthusiasts can text or create a social media post using about six different gifs celebrating drinking, all of which feature the Absolut name or logo. The Times reports that Giphy doesn’t make any money. The company has relied on venture capital backing since it was founded in 2013y. Creating original content and cornering the GIF advertising market seems to be a big part of a plan to generate future revenue.
Sadly, the nature of GIFs means this idea is never going to work.
GIFs rely on simplicity. They’re designed to say one thing and they’re only effective if they only say a single thing, like if you’re exciting or bored or think something’s stupid. People use GIFs to communicate without really saying anything. They’re frictionless statements designed to momentarily amuse. They don’t say anything if they’re complicated.
Giphy is asking far too much of the format by including advertising or using it to increase brand awareness. They’re asking a format that can only do one thing at a time to multitask. You want me to think about drinking AND a name brand of vodka? It doesn’t sound like much but it’s jarring, particularly when you remember the irony that often comes with using a GIF.
Last December, Giphy released a list of the most viewed GIFs of the year. When they’re lined up together, removed from the context of a text or Facebook post, they seem almost shamefully basic. In the GIFs, celebrities, athletes and cartoons express joy and annoyance, exhaustion and despair. I’d never seen the one Giphy claims to be the year’s most viewed, which featured a video of a gnome knitting a heart. Maybe a lot of grandmas and middle school girls used it. I don’t know.
The only one that stuck out for me was the cartoon of a cup of coffee jumping up and down while the word “good morning” flashed on the screen. I instantly saw three ways I would use it: 1. To sarcastically show I was having a bad morning. 2. To torture a hungover person 3. As part of a job assignment where I had to include GIFs but had to make sure the final product was as anodyne as possible.
If the coffee cup had a Folgers logo, it wouldn’t work for any of those purposes. The branding would make it impossible to use sarcastically with a friend. It would be too specific to properly annoy someone suffering through a post drinks morning and too clearly about something to fade into the background.
But if GIFs can’t make money through advertising, how will they ever be profitable?