GIFs and memes are all over the Internet, and you can’t help but wonder if a company can use them effectively in their marketing. TweetDeck, a Twitter management tool, recently announced that users can view GIFs right from their feed, rather than having to click on the tweet’s link for access.

This added functionality got me thinking about how useful GIFs and memes really are. They make us laugh on social media, but how well do they work in helping a brand differentiate itself and become more memorable? Interestingly enough, they have the potential to work quite well.

What are GIFs and memes and how are they different?

Chances are if you’re active on social media, you’ve likely interacted with a GIF or meme before; probably several just today!

GIF stands for “graphics interchange format,” and is a compressed image file format that you can easily share on the Internet. To create one, you use a very short video or string together a series of still images that create a video-like animation once compressed.

This GIF of Richard Sherman’s reaction to Russell Wilson’s end zone interception went viral after the Super Bowl.

To go along with the animation, brands will try to come up with a witty or sarcastic message that would prompt the situation or expression in the image. This text appears in the body of the company’s social post and the GIF is displayed below as an attachment. They generally have little to do with the featured pictures, but that’s what makes them memorable.

BuzzFeed came up with quite a few hilarious responses to Sherman’s reaction, amongst many other social media users. My personal favorite: “When Nationwide was a MAJOR commercial buzzkill,” followed by the GIF above.

A meme is a bit different from a GIF, in that the graphic is just one static image with a caption. Memes still tend to take a humorous approach, just without the animation factor. The “Success Kid” is one of the most popular memes out there, and like GIFs, social media users have come up with situations or reasons why this adorable toddler is making this expression.


How can these images be valuable to a company’s marketing?

These funny and sarcastic images are entertaining, but how can you incorporate them into an actual marketing strategy? Sure, people like you and me enjoy sharing them with our social media followers, but is this type of marketing professional enough for companies to use?

Really it comes down to knowing your audience; I am certainly not going to propose that every brand should run to Twitter and post a meme ASAP. If you’re a B2B company, then GIFs and memes are probably not the best tool to increase engagement. You’re looking to connect with customers at the corporate level, where proposals are created and formal conversations need to happen. Your marketing strategy shouldn’t be dull or purely educational, but there’s definitely a more structured element to be considered.

However, if you target the end consumer and your market tends to be very connected to technology, you could make this work quite well. Companies that focus on millennials or younger generations can use these images to get on their level and grab their attention. If your customer base consists primarily of Baby Boomers, this strategy is probably not for you.

In order to use GIFs or memes effectively, keep tabs on what is going on in the media and what topics are popular online so you can remain relevant. These images have a short life span, so you want to make sure you’re not posting something that’s “so two weeks ago.”

It’s also important that you don’t pick a trending image and use it just for the sake of using it. Try to make sure it has some sort of relevance to your company so followers understand what your company does, if they’re not already familiar. Also, be sure to understand the meaning behind the image so you don’t accidentally offend anyone. A little controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you don’t want to blatantly offend your customers.

There are several benefits to using GIFs and memes as part of your digital marketing strategy. Our top 5 reasons:

  • They’re very easy to create (and free!)
    • Use to search for popular memes or upload your own image
    • Check out to search through popular GIFs or to upload pictures or video and make your own
    • The hardest part is coming up with a funny caption. Try to shy away from corny, overused jokes so people view you as current and original. It’s not as much about cracking a joke, but having a sarcastic flair.
  • They appeal to a consumer’s short attention span
    • Social media’s major strength is the ability to convey information quickly, so GIFs and memes are a great way to share something important and rapidly
  • Images and videos are more likely to be shared
    • You’ve probably been hit over the head with this point several times, and for a good reason! When it comes to social media, laughter is contagious; and a visual that we laugh at, we often want to share with others.
  • They can serve as an effective call-to-action (CTA) without being forceful
    • Companies that effectively use GIFs and memes aren’t typically just being funny for the sake of being funny; they’re also telling you something important about their company or trying to get you to complete a particular action. And it’s a way to do so without trying to force a hard sell.
      • Check out MTV’s Twitter page. They use relevant, humorous GIFs that relate directly back to what they’re all about and they know their audience.
  • They have the ability to evoke emotion
    • Generally speaking, memes and GIFs are used to make consumers laugh. Whether it’s a dramatic, sarcastic, or shocking approach, brands know that people want to be entertained. And if you can effectively create a reaction from your followers, they will be more inclined to remember you.

Aside from social media, GIFs and memes can have a great place in your email marketing strategy as well. This hasn’t been as widely adopted yet, but it could be a great way to incorporate a more interactive element to email. Consider trying this in your next campaign as a way to convey an important message without an overwhelming amount of text. The image is likely to grab a reader’s attention and make them more likely to read your message in its entirety.

This is an example of a GIF that Amazon used in its Black Friday email campaign:

It’s easy to understand the intent behind the email, and it definitely stands out in your inbox from messages composed entirely of text and static images.

It’s important to keep in mind that this area of digital marketing is not going to fit every business model. If you aren’t targeting the typical consumer who interacts with GIFs and memes on a regular basis or what you sell is of a very serious or formal nature, then this probably isn’t the best approach for you. You also have to be careful that you aren’t going to offend anyone, and that your message is purely lighthearted. But if you can use these tools effectively, you are likely to stand out from your competitors and better engage consumers in your marketing.