New Twist on Old Tech: Animated GIFs in Email

One of the simple joys of the Net, the GIF has existed since 1987 and has been a part of the Internet ever since. Despite limitations such as being limited to 256 colors, the GIF is still one of the simplest ways to utilize animation for your website or email. Animation is certainly eye-catching, and also adds interactivity to an otherwise boring and static page. Luckily for marketers, this long existence and simplicity has made the GIF widely accepted and easy to integrate into existing creative.

Many times in email marketing you can feel trapped by the limitations of the medium; file size, HTML and CSS compatibility, the ever increasing popularity of tiny screens. These issues force many email marketers into a trap of predictability, working on past proven results instead of moving ahead like the rest of the digital marketing field. Although using a 26 year old technology may not seem like “moving ahead,” the end result of sending your subscribers something a bit different, and a bit better than your competitors stays true. The GIF really works, and the creative ways it can be used are innumerable.

Too large for an email, but you can see the potential. Image courtesy of: boagworld
Too large for an email, but you can see the potential.
Image courtesy of: boagworld

Like you would expect, the GIF is overwhelmingly supported by nearly all email clients. The most notable exception is Outlook 2007 and 2010, which only display the first frame of an animated GIF. This means that if you’re going to have important information in your animation, such as sale prices or your product image, you need to be sure to have this at the beginning frame of your GIF. Barring this annoying, but not disabling incompatibility, the benefits can be astounding. Considering that iOS devices load images by default, you have the opportunity to present your subscribers an exciting, creative, and powerful graphic right from the open!

Video in email is still substantially flawed, so the GIF remains the most viable option for showing your recipients a short animation or slideshow. Even after video support becomes viable, GIFs will still present a way to show animations while keeping file sizes small. Best practice is to keep an email below 100kb, the smaller the better, so it’s hard to adhere by this and send video in the first place. To avoid filtering, image size, including animated GIFs, should be under 50k. This may eliminate some of the longer animation ideas, but it’s still plenty to make your graphics pop.

If you still associate animations with annoying MySpace backgrounds, or dancing babies, check out Paul Boag’s post with some beautiful examples of the format. Although many of these examples are too large to make for viable additions to email, hopefully the potential is clear. You should also keep in mind that all images can affect deliverability, and many clients require users to click an additional button to view images in emails. Split testing should be a vital part of any image heavy campaign you launch, so you’re able to compare the results based on different file sizes and graphics.

Written by
Marcin Chruszcz
Account Manager at ExpertSender
Email and marketing geek. Specializes in email deliverability, strategy and design. Basketball and MTB riding enthusiast.
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