However you pronounce the “G” in “GIF,” the looping video file format is developing into a legitimate touchpoint along the customer journey.
For NBC, which recently revived its popular comedy series “Will & Grace” in September after more than 10 years off the air, GIFs are “a way in,” said Jared Goldsmith, VP of marketing and digital strategy at NBCUniversal – and a self-described hard “G” guy.
To promote the reboot, NBC partnered with Tenor, a mobile GIF keyboard app and search engine, to create and distribute a custom collection of “Will & Grace” GIFs that use classic footage pulled from the network’s archives as well as clips from new episodes.
“The difference between paid media and earned media is the ability to get shared in places where people are expressing themselves – messaging apps in particular,” Goldsmith said. “We see a lot of marketing value in being part of those conversations in an organic way.”
It’s one thing to place an ad in someone’s news feed, but it’s another for someone to seek out an advertiser’s content and share it with friends as part of a one-to-one or one-to-few interaction.
Display ads, even the cleverest of six-second videos, aren’t shareable in the same way as a GIF that pops up when a user is searching for an emotional keyword, like “happy,” “funny,” “silly” or “sad.”
Roughly 300 million people conduct daily GIF searches on Tenor’s platform. That’s a lot of intent that isn’t being harnessed, said Jason Krebs, chief business officer at Tenor.
“We work with marketers and content owners to map GIFs to the right emotions and keywords,” Krebs said. “When someone’s excited and searching for an image to illustrate that emotion, why shouldn’t it be the marketer’s content that shows up?”
A search for “martini” on Tenor’s platform brings up a GIF of Karen waving a martini glass around with the words “Drink me, I make life more fun.” A search for “annoyed” brings up a GIF of Grace collapsing on a sofa.
But NBC isn’t calculating the ROI of its GIFs. There’s a place for hard performance KPIs and a place for upper-funnel engagement. This is the latter.
"This is about getting our characters into places it might otherwise be very hard to get into by using traditional marketing techniques,” Goldsmith said. “We’re inserting ourselves back into pop culture, back into the zeitgeist.”
Although it’s arguably easier for an entertainment company like NBC to get into the GIF game because it’s got coffers of content and intellectual property to mine, any brand has the opportunity to tap into GIFs as an earned media channel, Krebs said.
Tenor recently launched an analytics tool that advertisers can use to derive insights about how and when people are searching for certain types of content.
A coffee brand, for example, might see an overabundance of searches for “need coffee” at 8 a.m., when people are starting their commutes to the office, and at around 3 p.m., during the mid-afternoon slump. Both are ideal moments for the brand to surface an amusing GIF – say, a dancing branded coffee cup.
NBC is gathering insights and intent signals related to how people are searching for its Will & Grace GIFs and feeding that info back into the creative process.
“We’re always looking at the data to figure out what’s popular, so we can create more relevant pieces of content,” Goldsmith said. “We do that for GIFs, but we also do it across many other platforms. We look at any data point we can to help inform us about what our audience is interested in.”