Your job, as an email marketer, is to drive engagement.
You can have the best-written emails in the world, but if it isn’t driving opens, and more importantly, clicks, nothing else matters. One way top brands are driving engagement today is by using animated GIFs.
From showcasing praise to promoting top products, there’s a myriad of ways brands are using GIFs to get noticed, so, in this article, I’ll focus on my five favorites, drawing from real examples from today’s top brands.
How to Use GIFs in Emails
1. Promote Your Products
Your marketplace dictates how you market your products in the email. If you’re in a niche like cruelty-free makeup, values will take precedence over, say, product marketing.
But if you’re in e-commerce—an industry that perhaps is best known for its use of GIFs in its emails—then you will likely focus more on personality and why the buyer needs to buy you from over a competitor.
One of the most common ways to use GIFs in marketing emails, based on my research, is promoting multiple products at once. Here are three ways to do that using real brands as examples.
i. Promote New Arrivals
When asking for a visitor’s email address, it’s common for many e-commerce websites to segment new visitors by gender, such as the below example from Calvin Klein.
To save on its emails limited real estate, Ralph Lauren recently leveraged a GIF to promote its new arrivals. The GIF featured a man and a woman modeling the new range.
Old Navy leveraged a GIF in a recent email of its own, going one step further than Ralph Lauren and adding the item’s price to promote its newly discounted items.
ii. Promote a Bundle
Many of the GIFs I found while researching this post focus on the product in question. But others, as with the example below from Flat Tummy Co., focus on a promotion’s specificity.
Not only that, but the brand also included a countdown timer underneath the above GIF to drive urgency for the promotion, counting down from the final hour.
iii. Promote a Color Range
Rather than promote a range of products, it’s common to sometimes want to promote one product, but showcase its range in color. That’s exactly what Violet Grey did in a recent email.
While the other products featured in the email were promoted with images, Violet Grey’s choice of highlighting one of its items with a GIF was enough to rivet my attention and read more.
2. Show Products in Action
A common best practice when photographing products is to photograph them in context. After all, it’s easier to envision owning a product after seeing it in its intended environment.
One brand that goes beyond that best practice is Sweaty Betty. In a recent email promoting its new gym equipment, the brand used a GIF to showcase its gym ball.
My favorite example, though, belongs to one of our favorite brands, Barkbox. From its copywriting to its unmistakable humor, the brand always goes the extra mile, and its email marketing is no exception.
In a recent email promoting a limited-time deal to claim a free splash pad, the brand used a GIF to show the mat in action, complete with a happy dog.
Using a GIF is an effective way of promoting the freebie. Plus, adding a dollar amount to boost the item’s perceived value was a particularly nice touch.
3. Showcase Customer Reviews
So far, we’ve seen brands leveraging GIFs to promote new arrivals or discounted products, which is the common approach to using GIFs in emails.
Another way, which Hollister expertly leverages, is using a GIF to highlight customer reviews. In a recent email, the brand featured a jigsaw-like GIF, promoting its bestsellers, complete with testimonials.
The testimonials, mostly praising the materials the brand uses, range from informative and helpful (“Ridiculously comfortable”) to memorable and humorous, “The material is so soft I just want to rub my face on it.”
Adding the buyer’s location, as well as five stars (perhaps to demonstrate social proof), adds to conveying the brand is liked, known, and trusted by a far-reaching fanbase.
4. Create Urgency
It’s no secret that urgency drives people to act. If there’s limited availability or a finite window to snag a bargain, we can’t help but take action.
It’s no surprise, then, that emails that communicate urgency—through copy or even better, a countdown timer—tend to perform well at driving buyers to take action.
In a recent email from Brooklinen, the brand leveraged a GIF of a clock counting down to signify the end of a promotion to get a free candle with orders over $150+.
Bed Bath & Beyond, by contrast, leverages a GIF of half a clock—perhaps to emphasize how limited the time really is—to drive further urgency for its daily deal.
Even though both of the above examples aren’t counting down to a deadline, the GIF combined with compelling copy is a clever way to drive prospective customers to take action.
5. Boost Email Engagement
Many brands leverage GIFs as an afterthought, a means of maybe getting a laugh or two. The best brands, though, leverage GIFs as a means of driving engagement.
Here are three ways to do that.
i. Pull the Reader Down the Email
Copywriter Joseph Sugarman once wrote, “Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slide.”
While Sugarman’s axiom was written with ads in mind, inviting the reader to keep reading is especially relevant to email marketing campaigns.
Gone are the days of having one call to action (CTA) at the bottom of an email. Today, e-commerce emails, in particular, have multiple CTAs, each pertaining to different offers at different price points.
Writing magnetic copy is one way to pull the reader down an email. Another, as Candy Club has discovered, is using a GIF to direct the reader down the email.
The email, promoting free shipping and 50 percent off all purchases, leverages a GIF of Swedish fish “swimming” down to a call to action to “Shop.”
The accompanying pun-based copy (“This way to the sweet life”) cleverly spaced out helps to further guide the reader down the email and hopefully, make a purchase.
ii. Make Your Emails Interactive
One way to engage the reader, as we saw in the above example from Candy Club, is using GIFs to pull the reader down an email. Another ingenious way, is to make the GIF interactive.
After clicking an answer, regardless of whether it was correct, the brand redirected you to a product page promoting its face mask collection, including those featured in the email.
Another way Shinesty uses GIFs to drive engagement is by opening an information gap at the bottom of each of its emails. Oftentimes, the brand will close its emails with a cryptic headline and GIF as with the example below.
When clicked, the brand redirected you to the product page for the product mentioned above in the email, serving as a final reminder to check out its products.
iii. Create Powerful CTAs
When you think of a call to action, you tend to think of either an anchor, that is, a hyperlinked word, or a button (as is often the case with e-commerce emails).
Writing a compelling call to action is powerful. But when you add a button, and make that button a GIF, it’s hard not to ignore, and more importantly, click.
GIFs have earned their place in emails, and rightfully so, given how engaging they are when leveraged correctly by the brand that is using them.
As you have seen in the examples above, there is more to using GIFs than touching on meme culture or getting a cheap laugh. You would be forgiven for thinking as much. (I, too, questioned their appeal.)
GIFs in emails afford the chance for brands to promote their products, drive higher engagement, and showcase their personality, building trust and loyalty in the process.