The case for GIFs in email

McKenzie Gregory


Think about it: In recent emails you’ve gotten from your favorite brands, how many have featured a GIF?

Chances are, quite a few. Marketers everywhere are embracing GIFs these days, and we’re all for it: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a GIF must be worth a million, right? (Well, depending on how many frames it has.)

But despite their overwhelming popularity, some people still get salty about the use of GIFs in email. So we’re here to tackle those objections once and for all. Here are some of the most common fears, complaints, and questions we hear about using animated GIFs in email, plus answers to why you should go ahead and hop on board the GIF train.



What if GIFs aren’t supported?

We get it: Even though it’s 2016, there are a few email clients that don’t support GIFs. The biggest perpetrator? Outlook. Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013 don’t display animation within emails, it’s true.

The good news? There’s an easy workaround. Even if the majority of your audience opens your campaigns in Outlook (though that’s doubtful, since only 9.5% of emails were opened in Outlook in 2015), you can still ensure those people have a positive inbox experience.

Outlook displays the first frame of animated GIFs as a static image. So as long as the first frame of your GIF looks good (and makes sense) as a standalone element in your email, no one will ever know the difference.

Besides, GIFs DO tend to function for the majority of people. Almost all email clients support this form of media (compared with only 58% that support video), according to our trusted friends at Litmus. And it’s extremely likely that down the road, 100% of email clients will support GIFs. 



Why should I use animation? Won’t it distract from my message?

For many marketers, the mere concept of the animated GIF brings up shudder-inducing flashbacks from early-2000’s web design.


Our friends at charity: water created this blast from the past as an April Fool's Day prank.


But no one is advocating for that sort of monstrosity. GIFs have evolved since then, we promise!

Besides, animated GIFs can be used for more than just gimmicks and humor (though in our opinions, that’s fine, too). For instance, we love when brands use GIFs to show off their app or product. Here are a couple of examples:






In these cases, the animated GIF isn’t just a frivolous design element. It works to communicate a message in a way that static images simply can’t, and it shows off product functionality in a way that’s both helpful and beautiful.

GIFs can also be a great space-saver. In this follow up email to our Marketing United attendees, we used a GIF to give a shoutout to all of our awesome sponsors. It kept the email content from becoming too overwhelming and gave the bottom of the email some visual interest to keep people scrolling.




Aren’t the file sizes way too big?

In an increasingly mobile world, file size can play an important part in any email program. Super large GIFs can be slow to load and play. Fortunately, there are a number of methods for reducing the file size of a GIF. In their guide to GIFs in email, Jason Rodriguez of Litmus recommends these steps:

• Cropping. Keep your focus on what is animated, cropping the image as much as possible to reduce the file size.

• Removing frames. You’d be surprised by how many frames you can remove from a GIF while still maintaining the illusion of motion.

• Only animate part of the picture. Don’t force the entire image to redraw itself in every frame. Use layers in Photoshop to isolate animated parts and only animate those layers.



Will using GIFs send my emails straight to the SPAM folder?

Quick answer: Probably not.

SPAM filters are always changing and adapting, and often it takes multiple things “scoring” to reach a threshold that would then mark an email as SPAM. Some SPAM filters might include the animated GIF as part of their equation, but for what it’s worth, so many large brands are now adding GIFs to enhance their content that it’s extremely unlikely that using GIFs alone would get your campaign flagged.



I’m not a designer – I don’t even know how to make a GIF!

You’re in luck! There are a ton of really awesome, free tools out there that people without Photoshop chops can use to make animated GIFs. Some of our favorites include GIMPPicasionGIFmaker, and (for Youtube or Vine videos).

Or, if you’re ready to give Photoshop a try, here’s a fantastic step-by-step tutorial from Hubspot.



There’s no benefit to using GIFs. Why should I bother?

Eh… we’d like to respectfully disagree. You’re not seeing GIFs everywhere because they’re fun and trendy, you’re seeing them because they work. Experian recently found that 72% of email marketers who have used animated GIFs have recorded higher transaction-to-click rates, compared with bulk emails to the same customers.

Besides, whether you like it or not, GIFs are here to stay. In the words of marketing expert Captain Jack Sparrow, “Those who fall behind get left behind.”

Don’t fall behind, guys. Adapt, embrace the GIF, and delight your audience with an awesome inbox experience.


About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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