Article first published in July 2007, updated May 2019
In 2007, people wanted to know how to use GIFs in email, so we ran a test and this is what we found. But as you can imagine, plenty has changed since then.
In fact, so much has changed we’ve updated our results for animated GIF support in email in our latest post. But plenty of what makes for good email is still just as true today as it was then.
Here are the updated takeaways that will help you use GIFs in email so they will be most effective and bring in stellar results for your email marketing campaigns.
Some advice for using GIFs in email
Here are some helpful tips for you regarding the use of animated GIFs:
Don’t forget about accessibility.
If you use animated images to tell a story, ensure everyone gets the message. Consider those with visual impairments, slow connections, and those who pay per kilobyte on their mobile devices.
In some cases, the problem of accessibility may deter content creators from using an animated GIF in email. If all your reader sees is the first frame because their connection can’t play the rest, they may be confused about what they’re seeing.
If an email client supports GIFs, it doesn’t automatically mean the user’s internet connection can handle it, or whether the data usage will be worth it for the reader.
If accessibility is a fear, consider an option that makes subtle use of animations.
The shadow of trees swaying in the breeze isn’t that burdensome of an animation, but it succeeds in creating an atmosphere and getting the point across.
Learn from history.
Just like email marketing evolves, so does graphic design. What worked a couple decades ago is antiquated by today’s standards. As the above example demonstrates, less can be more. Even when GIFs are extravagant in their design, those that scream “Hey, look at me,” are sometimes better left out.
The danger of those over-the-top animations is that they come off as too pitchy. They have all the finesse of an overzealous salesman, and a try-hard attitude can easily repel people who would’ve otherwise been interested in your content.
There’s also the issue of the animations overshadowing the actual content. If you want to create animated GIFs, you should keep restraint and balance in mind.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
An animated email can be great at getting a reader’s attention. However, that doesn’t mean you should make your email animated just for the sake of it.
Animations should only be used where applicable. How do you tell? Does the email lack that creative factor and need something to give it a little more impact? In that case, using an animation could be a smart move.
You should also use them if the situation calls for it. If you reference a phrase or something similar that is represented in a popular GIF, it’s a good chance to use one.
Just as any tool in web design, you can use animated GIFs to enhance our message in non-invasive ways.
The essence of creativity in marketing lies in complimenting the content, not overshadowing it. So, if you have an email that could be animated, think creatively on how to do it.
The static image is appealing enough as is, with the creative use of perspective and diverse color pallet. Adding animation to it, in a limited amount, keeps your interest.
The creative aspect of this graphic is that each message will appear in the central spot at some point. More likely, a reader will want to look through and see each one, solely because of the way the GIF presents the information.
The use of an animated GIF in email marketing is a delicate art to master, but, once you do find the right approach, the possibilities are limitless.
Original post from 2007:
I’m not one for Flash, but many web designers obviously use it. Some for interactivity and others for animation. In the web environment, the latter is a replacement for animation formats of days old: animated GIFs. But Flash isn’t supported in the email environment, so for web designers accustomed to using animation to communicate a message are left searching for alternatives. Enter animated GIFs.
I’m not going to argue about whether animated GIFs are a sufficient replacement for Flash or whether they are the devil or anything else of that nature. Rather, I’m simply going to share what I’ve learned about support for them in the email environment. The results are dizzying, so try to keep up.
Every single email client I tested supports animated GIFs. Well, except for one: Outlook 2007. Big surprise. Though if you carefully plan your animation, this news may not be so bad. Outlook 2007 displays the first frame of the GIF as a static image. So if your first frame works as a static image, you are in good shape.
When used properly, GIFs can be very effective in email marketing. Most popular clients used today support them and the ways they can enhance your content are vast.
In order to use this media type effectively, use it in moderation and only when the content calls for it. You should also get creative with using GIFs as you get more comfortable with it.
Want to get inventive with your animation use? Check out how we did it.