We have all seen them used in our personal messages to our friends, in emails from everyone, and even in this blog. GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) are digital visuals that populate every corner of our digital and social media world and we cannot hide from them. They are great way to express certain emotions, situations, and everything in between. I personally love GIFs. I use them all the time in my messages to friends to express my feelings and reactions in various situations like when I am craving pizza or obsessed with a new song. So how and when did GIFs get popular?


GIFs emerged in popularity in the late 2000’s when people started making them from existing video content. People made them as a mode of expression. These digital bite size expressions were blown up alongside the rise of Tumblr and Reddit. They were social media platforms that were perfect for GIFs. From this digital form of expression came a digital economy and business for GIFs that is funded by a ton of venture firms. One of the recent biggest digital ventures to leverage GIFs popularity is Giphy.

Giphy was founded in 2013 and their main purpose is to be a search engine of GIFs and provide the internet with a database of GIFs. The website lets the world search, discover, and share GIFs. It allows users upload and tag GIFs to make them searchable on the web and through Giphy’s native mobile apps and integrations, allow users to share in their day to day communication. This platform is so big, that Giphy is currently valued at $300 million dollars! But, how can a website of just GIFs be so valuable? How will Giphy make money once their venture capital fund is out?

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Giphy is probably planning to make money by partnering with brands and media companies to make GIFs of that company’s content and people can thus share these GIFs on their social media platforms, messaging apps, and everyday digital communication platforms. Giphy wants to be a major content distribution company and let brands and companies create instantly shareable content with users. This allows a lot of opportunities for advertisers and marketers to explore new channels of digital marketing, specifically within the messaging channel.

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Never before could advertisers and brands dive into people’s personal messages and market to them, but with GIFs there is now a powerful marketing opportunity for this. Giphy is now integrated in Facebook Messenger and Slack, which provides opportunity to be even more accessible to consumers. Consumers can now take these expressive and branded objects (i.e. a GIF from Stranger Things or a GIF of Starbucks announcing PSL season is back) and easily send them to their friends directly to a friend, family member, coworker, etc. with just a click of a button.

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Instead of traditional advertising of a brand trying to shove a message down a user’s throat, regular people are in a way are the brand ambassadors that are directly messaging others with branded GIFs and increasing awareness for brand. On top of that, users are creating their own GIF content with brands. People are identifying with content, self endorsing it as well since they chose to send it and making content, and both people in a message chat are using it and bonding over it emotionally. GIFs are absolutely perfect for brands who want engagement with their content and gather user generated content as well. GIFs are a new avenue that you can see potential for new branded advertisements in your digital messaging platforms. People are collectively using and engaging a ton of GIFs everyday and if brands decide to utilize this, they would be tapping into something with an immense reach and sharing power.

Between the search engine aspect, the complete social integration of its content, and the huge potential for branded engagement, I believe Giphy will have no problem finding advertising and brand partners to collaborate with to market to users. In the future, it will be interesting to see how these simple forms of digital expressions that are ingrained in our digital social lives will be monetized and how businesses will utilize them to market to users in new channels they have never had access to before. Where do you think GIFs will go? Are GIFs just a digital fad that will fade out one day or will they keep on growing to continue taking over the world?

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  1. Good post. It seems like GIFs appeared out of nowhere and went very viral. I do agree that Tumblr and Reddit are the main sources of where GIF’s gained their popularity. Now, GiFs are ubiquitous with all social media. It’s also worth noting that Apple’s new IOS system has a GIF search engine in their messages to make it easily accessible. I don’t know if this relates to Giphy but it seems like it is similar. I am interested seeing how platforms like Giphy monetize their services.

  2. rohansuwarna · ·

    Awesome job! I think GIF’s have taken over messaging platforms in many different applications. Twitter Direct Messaging, Facebook Messenger, and the new iOS 10 Messaging App is filled with GIFs. I think actually that might be favorite part about the iOS 10 update. It is so easy to send my friends GIFs through iMessage and the search engine for them is very useful as well. I can only see the popularity of GIFs growing because it’s just a way to keep up with social trends. So, when someone or something does anything funny that is noteworthy, it can became anyone’s favorite GIF.

  3. finkbecca · ·

    Great post! I think GIFs are hilarious and you can always find one that perfectly expresses what you’re trying to say, it’s amazing. Both Twitter and Apple now have added GIFs as a feature and I see them all the time on both. I work for Campus Recreation at Boston College and we made a series of blog posts with workout GIFs and we got so much more traffic on those posts then many others. People love GIFs, so finding ways to monetize that is smart.

  4. gabcandelieri · ·

    Great post! I personally love using GIFs through my messaging apps like Facebook and iMessage. I also follow certain Instagram accounts that employ GIFS in their content. Seeing a funny GIF on Instagram usually prompts me to tag one or multiple of my friends in the post’s comment section to share a laugh. In terms of where GIFs are going, I definitely think they will persevere through the digital age as brand differentiators. As a consumer, I look at GIFs as an extremely sharable entity; therefore, if a brand I follow on my various social accounts utilizes a particularly humorous or witty GIF to spread its advertising messages, I will most likely tag friends in that post, and, in effect, spread that brand’s image or discounted offerings for the day. It is this kind of digital interactivity that brands should be seeking to create so that consumers can become, as you stated, loyal brand ambassadors.

  5. jagpalsingh03 · ·

    Great post! It’s crazy to see how much money a website like Giphy has made in such a short time, just off of GIFs! I think the reason for GIFs’ success are that they are more complex than a picture but don’t require anywhere near the attention and effort that a video does. It’s the perfect happy medium. I know a few people above have mentioned IOS 10 adding GIFS, which in thought is a great idea but I feel that the interface is too clunky and I can count, on one hand, the number of times people have sent me a GIF. Regardless, I hope more platforms work GIFs into their programs

  6. emilypetroni14 · ·

    Although GIFs gained popularity on movile devices recently, they were actually invented in 1987. They went out of style for a bit, but resurfaced around 2007, probably with the inteoduction of the smartpjones that could support them.

  7. Austin Ellis · ·

    Really interesting post! Its amazing that a company like Giphy can be worth anything near $300 million, considering how basic it is. Company content gifs seem like they will be huge in the future, with all the companies already marketing on Instagram. This does not always work out too well, thinking of Coca-Cola’s gif-maker which was hijacked by trolls. Interesting to see how this moves forward.

  8. bishopkh1 · ·

    Great post! GIFs are definitely on the rise, even in more professional settings. Within Slack, a messaging platform for teams, you can insert GIFs directly into the channel through using /giphy, which has been awesome for creating a lighthearted conversation with teammates.

  9. katieInc_ · ·

    Awesome post! I TA for the freshmen course, Portico, and try to insert GIFs at the end of each of my weekly emails to make sure they read the entire message and offer a little added humor. At first, I think they thought I was a little overexcited for the course or had too much time on my hands, but now by mid-semester, they’ve started to rate my GIFs in terms of how funny they are and whether or not they were relevant to anything I said in my email. I’ve noticed my peers, professors, and even coworkers use GIFs in their emails to engage their audience and make content that is often boring by nature seem funny and more enjoyable. Overall, I think GIFs are here to stay and will soon find a way to be monetized.

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