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A GIF from the past: Animation in the inbox, Part I

Over the last few years, the significance of a GIF (graphics interchange format) has gone from laughable Internet relic to a prolific cultural art form. In an age of increasing computer literacy and a decreasing tolerance for slow load times (attributed partially to a growing mobile marketing audience), GIFs have emerged in a number of unlikely places, from Internet memes to online journalism.

When it comes to promotional email marketing, GIFs make a lot of sense. They render across multiple email clients, they’re simple to produce and they make important messaging and images pop. When deciding whether or not to include a GIF in your marketing communication, ask yourself what purpose the animation is serving and what value it will give to your subscriber.

Here are a few worthwhile benefits that animation can provide in an email:

[caption id="attachment_1683" align="alignright" width="231"] Click to view animation.[/caption]

Drawing the eye to important details.

A simple animation in the banner or top navigation of the email is a great way to catch the attention of your subscriber. Piperlime highlights their 'free shipping and free return policy' with a basic animated text banner just above the top navigation. Williams Sonoma uses the classic flipping calendar to create a sense of urgency, and Kohl's makes their header area pop with an adorable Easter bunny that hops across it's 'free shipping' banner.



[caption id="attachment_1904" align="alignleft" width="185"]Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 9.33.20 AM Click to view animation.[/caption]

Showing your audience you’re a fun, creative brand.

Despite all the best practices we set out for email design, there are always a few rebels who break the rules and get away with it. Best practices are a set of standards that should be adjusted based on the most important consideration of any brand: their audience. In the case of Urban Outfitters, a young, tech-savvy following will not only appreciate a more artistic GIF animation, but they are also likely to be using an email client that can easily render it.




[caption id="attachment_1685" align="alignright" width="208"]Click to view animation. Click to view animation.[/caption]

Showcasing multiple products or ideas.

A very practical use of the animated GIF is to optimize the limited space available in the hero or primary message of the email by animating the images. Osh Kosh B’Gosh employs this technique to feature three kids’ tees without crowding the limited space above the fold.

In communications that have a lot of information to relay in a small space, like the Verizon Wireless monthly newsletter, animating three frames in the hero allows you to build a cohesive storyline. Each frame is given the breathing room to develop that piece of the story without overwhelming the reader with large blocks of copy.


Pro tip: In some versions of Outlook, only the first frame of your animation will render in the inbox. Remember this when developing the messaging of the first frame, and consider incorporating a 'View with Images' link in your pre-header so that your subscriber has the opportunity to see the real deal.

So now that we've covered a few examples of when GIFs are appropriate, stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll discuss design considerations for animations, how to make sure your subscribers can see your GIFs in their inbox and more.

Till next time!

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