Brands Are Digging Into GIF Data to Understand Consumer Behavior

Tenor breaks down the art of looping videos

Domino's

GIFs are more than just popular, looping clips on social media. As brands work to inject themselves into messaging applications and bots, marketers are also starting to dissect viral, silly GIFs to better understand how people use them as a form of communication. While busily working to build buzzy content, marketers are cranking out dozens of GIFs in hopes of capturing a cultural moment that puts their brand in front of millions of digital eyeballs.

“It’s giving us a whole new tool set that allows us to get into internet culture where people don’t want to watch commercials,” said Dean McBeth, head of integrated strategy at CP+B, which handles social and digital work for Domino’s.

Netflix

Coca-Cola

Starbucks

Domino's

To dig into exactly how consumers find and share branded GIFs, Tenor, the creator of GIF Keyboard, pulled search data on four big marketers for Adweek: Domino’s, Netflix, Coca-Cola and Starbucks.

The data shines a light on consumer behavior. Caffeine lovers, for example, search for “Good morning” 2.1 million times every month before using a Starbucks-branded GIF. Another 8 million searches for “goodnight” and 900,000 for “hangover” are connected to Domino’s. Netflix fans type in the keyword “sad” 6 million times a month to find looping videos featuring the streaming video site’s shows and characters. And 12.9 million searches for “dance” result in consumers clicking on a GIF related to Coca-Cola.

“GIFs are becoming a more popular way for people to express their emotions and talk to their friends—they also allow us to share stories with our fans in their voice,” said Peter Callaro, group director of the social center for Coca-Cola North America.

Beyond their popularity, the small, animated graphics are packed with insights for marketers to help shape future campaigns and creative.

“It’s live, it’s signaling intent,” explained Jason Krebs, chief business officer of Tenor. “The creative sides of the agencies are going to see a whole brand new world—this is data and information that they’ve really only seen in small focus groups.”

Adds Casey Roeder, director of business and strategy at Wondersauce, “It’s essentially free research if [marketers] know the right way to unpack it.”

According to Tom Buontempo, president of KBS-owned Attention, marketers should take note of such social stats because they can also change brand perception and positioning.

“A lot of those insights can impact how you’re creating more GIFs in general, but it could go a lot more broadly,” he said.

Still, there is work to be done with measurement. While brands can track GIFs on open platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, they cannot be tracked in messaging apps or work-management platform Slack. “It’s created a whole new measurement paradigm because a lot of the reporting also changes,” CP+B’s McBeth said.

To that end, Tenor is in talks with third-party measurement companies such as Moat about building more specific stats including viewability into its platform to give brands a deeper under-the-hood look at their social content.

“We are definitely focused on delivering business results for the folks that we deal with,” said Tenor’s Krebs. “The stakes have been raised in terms of verification—we are building this system.”

Find a new category
A search for “happy” on Tenor brings up hundreds of GIFs, so Liz Wells, a senior strategist at Swift—which creates GIFs for Starbucks—advises brands to think of content that isn’t so well populated to cut through the clutter. “You want to think about the kinds of search terms that make sense for the brand,” she said.

Think small
Similar to Twitter’s Vine, try to tell a whole story in one looping motion, said VaynerMedia’s svp of entertainment Kim Garcia.
“GIFs are a form of video—you can storytell with GIFs, you can recap a show, you can tease a show out by capturing a small moment that will drive interest,” she said.

Embrace user-generated content
Thanks to platforms like Giphy, anyone can make a GIF, meaning that consumers are already doing the heavy lifting of cutting up brands’ commercials into spots. “The UGC stuff is like the greatest bit of advocacy for us online, because they’re creating things in their own language into their community far more than we can reach them,” said CP+B’s McBeth.

Customize for the platform
Wondersauce’s Roeder said her agency has been using Instagram’s Boomerang app for clients because it makes quick GIFs instead of using highly produced video since it’s the same type of content consumers are already sharing to the app. “We’ve seen better performance with more low-fi, native platform applications,” she said.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.