TRAVEL MARKETING ALERT: The GIFers are coming

Lead Analyst: Luke Bujarski

Travel marketers should jump on Giphy, a rapidly rising startup that harnesses the power of the GIF (graphics interchange format) to create instantly shareable video clips compatible with SMS, messenger apps, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and other sharing platforms. The technology has been around since the early days of the internet, but some of these new applications could be a game changer for travel marketers.

While trivial at first glance, "giffing" is the byproduct of a bigger cultural shift toward communication through pictures and moving images, rather than words. Giphy and other startups are facilitating this transition, and the sophistication level will only increase over time. This will create opportunities and challenges for travel marketers looking to reach audiences in new and creative ways. 

Travel brands are a unique fit for GIF marketing because places and the companies that get us there are the perfect context for GIF making. The big social media networks are taking notice, as are Silicon Valley investors. Giphy just scored a USD 55 million investment round and is now valuated at 300 million. Travel brands should also take advantage of these early days to stand out in an increasingly noisy and expansive digital universe.

Search, discover, share, create animated content

There are many layers to this newest GIF trend. The technology used to help web developers spice up their front-end with shiny, flickering icons. Giphy has given us a searchable database of user generated GIF files that can be shared, downloaded, and embedded onto websites, blogs, and other digital publishing platforms. Giphy is essentially the YouTube of GIFs. Riffsy is another startup competing in this space.

Creating GIFs once required Photoshop but Giphy made it easy through its GIF Maker and GIPHY CAM app, available for iOS and Android. So what's the appeal? The snappy iterative format falls in line with our shortening attention spans, and a bigger social trend which involves communication through imagery rather than words.

The GIF is an emoji on steroids. Expressing our feelings, moods, likes, dislikes, concepts, and intentions through pics and video clips of third parties performing different tasks that represent (symbolically or figuratively) our intentions and emotions is nothing short of a sea change in the way we communicate.

It's an alien yet ancient concept. People have been communicating through pictures longer than they have through written words. The earliest forms of written language used illustrations of the physical and mystical worlds to express and record our actions. Think hieroglyphics. Modern cultures including the Chinese still communicate through characters rather than alphabets.

It's a different cognitive thought process that involves communication through sight, rather than sound: 

  • The alphabet-oriented thought process: See letters, convert letters into sounds, translate sounds into concepts.
  • The character-oriented thought process: See characters, translate images into concepts.

Chinese characters and emojis are one thing. GIFs take it to the next level by incorporating pop culture and animation. Consider this three-count clip of Jean-Luc Picard offering up a congratulatory round of applause.  

 Well done. 

Well done. 

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then GIFs speak millions. 

Rather than sending your friend an SMS with the word "congratulations", or a generic emoji of hands clapping, this JLP GIF offers much more context. For those unfamiliar, the captain is very difficult to please. A round of applause from Jean-Luc tells the recipient "outstanding" job.

Branded layers and brand ambassadors

Creating and sharing GIFs might also be described as a crude form of augmented reality. The GIphy Cam app gives the user options to add unique touches of imagination and context into their visual messaging. Here is a crude example pulled together on a recent flight from Miami to New York entitled:

My whacky plane ride

The nerve of some people.

Uhhhh wait, is that normal?

Excuse me, have a question over here.

GIF layers take just moments to transform an otherwise mundane image into something unique and shareworthy. This is where GIFs get interesting for travel marketers. Travel and destination brands are uniquely suited for this, since pic and video sharing is so central to promoting places and the companies that get us there. Travel photo sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and other platforms is also a very, very crowded space. Developing GIF layers could help travel brands reach bigger audiences, by empowering the user to create unique content on its behalf. 

Giphy just started building out its custom filters working with various franchises to develop branded variations. Currently the company is experimenting with Star Wars, Zoolander, and X-Files to create unique filters. Branded filters will also likely get more sophisticated over time. Popular filters will likely generate serious social media and messenger traffic.

Investments heating up

The same tech that once made websites blink with crude appeal, is now getting noticed by some big tech investors. As reported on TechCrunch, Giphy closed 55 million in funding, upping its valuation to USD 300 million. In the coming weeks, Twitter will roll out its native GIF button which will allow users to easily share GIFs. Facebook Messenger and Slack have already integrated with Giphy.

Interest in "GIF" as search term

Interest in "Giphy" as search term

The USD 55 million round will put pressure on founder Tim Lang to convert Giphy's growing user base into a cash cow. Traditional Adwords revenue will become Giphy's bread-and-butter. The attention from Facebook and other major social media platforms almost guarantees its entry into the digital mainstream. But this is likely the very beginning of a bigger transformation that will take place. Communicating through contextually relevant video clips will open up a new realm of opportunities for marketers to capitalize on this new form of user generated content.