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Using animated GIFs in emails

With email volumes increasing, it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out in your customers’ inboxes. Animated GIFs may be the solution.

Have your emails lacked engagement from your customers lately? Entertaining and making them take action can be difficult. You need to grab their attention right away. Animated GIFs can help because they add movement and visual interest to your campaigns.

We’ve put together a list of the things you should know about animated GIFs and how to make them.

What is an animated GIF?

GIF were invented in 1987 and it stands for Graphic Interchange Format. For those who grew up with cartoons like Tom & Jerry, GIFs are the digital sister of a frame-by-frame design. They work on the principle that rendering slightly altered frames quickly will create the illusion of movement.

How can animated GIFs increase engagement?

Animated GIFs can ‘break the silence’ of the email environment. They can help your emails stand out against all the other static campaigns in a recipient’s inbox.

If done right, they can be used as visual explanations for a feature.


This will not only make your email less wordy, but make it more fun for your audience.

In this example from Costa, an animation of a fresh cup of coffee made all of us at Adestra put the kettle on.

Costa April Newsletter Animation

The GIF was part of a newsletter directed at Costa Coffee Club Members using personalization and relevant content to start a conversation around coffee. It achieved a fantastic 44% open-rate and produced some other great insights.

Especially in food and drinks-related businesses, think about how you could use GIFs to entice the viewer to crave your product.

This is another example from our recent webinar When Email Marketing Meets Design Theory. It shows how you can use animated GIFs to create an atmosphere that would otherwise be too lengthy to put in words.

Mr Porter lounge animation

And the best part is, they render in most email clients with the exception of Outlook 2007 and later versions, and the Windows Phone 7 OS.

What happens if the client doesn’t support them?

If you’re a company sending mostly B2B emails, chances are that a lot of your recipients use Outlook to open on a desktop. Even so, don’t give up on GIFs just yet. If that’s the case, the email client will just render a still frame from your animation.

If you’re not sure of what your customers are using, you can check in MessageFocus, under Report in the Email Client tab. Here you can see a breakdown of the platforms and the specific clients.

What are the cons?

One of the problems with animated GIFs is that they can have a large file size because essentially they are a bunch of images on top of each other. But if you understand this, you’re half-way there to solving the problem.

One solution is to reduce the number of frames used. Test how many frames you can delete without losing the illusion of motion. You’d be surprised with how few frames it takes to trick our eye.

The second solution is to reduce the size of the animated area using layers. Not having to render the whole image again will cut down on your file size. And a smaller file size means a faster loading email.

As I mentioned, animated GIFs don’t render in Outlook 2007 and later, but check where your clients are opening emails. And test with the Content & Spam Checker in MessageFocus to see how it looks.

You know how I said animated GIFs can help drive engagement and entertain because they break up the monotony of emails? That’s why you shouldn’t include one in every single email you send. Choose situations where it can make a difference like enticing to a particular purchase. Otherwise, you risk losing the surprise effect. Or your customers get distracted by it and forget about your message altogether.

How do you make one?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to start having some fun with animated GIFs. To create simple ones, you can use one of the many design software options out there. But if you’re looking for something more complex, like the examples in this post, ask a designer to help you. If you’re a client, just contact our Professional Services team.

Still not sure? Test it in your next few emails and see if it has an impact on your results.


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