The Many Uses (and 2 Drawbacks) of Animated Gifs
While there are a growing number of video in email options, each with their own limitations, the animated gif is still the predominant way to add motion into an email design. Since the eye is immediately drawn to motion, animated gifs are a wonderful tool that can be used to accomplish a variety of goals:
Show an assortment: Animated gifs can give you more screen real estate to show a wider selection of products, especially products in the same category or different colors or styles of the same product. They can also be used to show how different products coordinate, such as different blouses and skirt combinations. In this Bed Bath & Beyond email, they show off a variety of coordinating textiles for curtains, chair upholstery and pillow coverings.
Product comparison: Similarly, you can use an animated gif to highlight the differences in particular products. For instance, in this Ann Taylor email, the retailer illustrates the various lengths of shorts and crops that they sell in way that makes it easy to understand how long each is.
Product demonstration: Simple product demonstrations are also possible with animated gifs. For instance, Sony has used a gif to show how their Xperia PLAY smartphone slides open to reveal a gamepad controller. A spin on this product demonstration idea, this Home Depot email shows how you can makeover your backyard patio.
Video call-to-action: Animated gifs make great calls-to-action to click through to video content. Just bundle a few frames from the video into an animated gif and place it inside the image of a video player console. Lego used that tactic in an Apr. 3 email.
Whimsy: By far the biggest use of animated gifs is to inject a little fun, delight and surprise into an email design. This Havaianas Australia email (from The Best of the Email Swipe File) is a great example of this tactic, where they make clever use of the Cheshire Cat’s habit of (mostly) disappearing.
When using animated gifs, you should be aware of two drawbacks. First, Outlook (and a few little used email clients) block animated gifs from progressing to the second frame. Because of this, it’s important that you include any critical information on the first frame of your animation. In some cases it may make sense to start your gif with what would otherwise be the last frame.
And second, animated gifs that are large or contain lots of frames can slow the loading of an email, particularly on a smartphone. While big animations can be striking, don’t dismiss the power of small animations. For instance, in a Feb. 18 West Elm email, they use a gif to make Lincoln give a little wink, which is a great extra touch.
This TOMS Shoes email (also from The Best of the Email Swipe File) takes both of these drawbacks into consideration. The email, which uses responsive design to serve up a desktop-friendly and a smartphone-friendly version of the email, contains an animated gif that only appears in the narrow-screen version. That means they only needed a small version of the gif is necessary and the email takes advantage of the better support for animated gifs on mobile devices.
Keep those limitations in mind as you dream up your own uses for the very versatile animated gif.