3 Surefire Reasons to Use Animated GIFs In Your Email Marketing

Chad White from the Retail Email Blog has posted a lot in the past about animated GIF usage. He recently tweeted that he hasn’t seen many animated GIFs lately, and as I dug through my inbox looking for examples I started to wonder why.

Since they are virtually compatible with all major email clients except for Outlook, animated GIFs are a genius way to infuse some personality into an email marketing campaign. Even subscribers viewing a message in Outlook can still see the first frame of a GIF shown as a static image, so you can still illustrate important details in the first frame.

Animated GIFs sound too tricky for you? They aren’t so bad, I promise. By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you ever wanted (or needed!) to know about the image format. Plus, you’ll see 3 different ways you can use them to create animated messages for your own email campaign.

First Things First. An Animated What?

A GIF is an image filetype made specifically for the web. The majority of people use them because of their small file size, but another great use is for animation in emails.

Animated GIFs simulate video so that you can see scrolling features, products in different colors or blinking calls to action without having to leave your inbox to visit a website. You can think of an animated GIF just like an old flip book movie. Your eye perceives a fluid motion when presented with several images in succession.

With an Animated GIF, You Can:

1. Highlight Different Products

Email marketing is one of the best ways to promote your business and expose prospective customers to your products. But with limited space and limited attention spans, sometimes the best emails go unnoticed mixed in among a slew of similar catalog-style messages.

An animated message can help you appeal to lots of different people without bothering with segmenting and using advanced email analytics. (This is especially good if you’re just starting out and don’t quite know exactly what subscribers want to see yet.)

Pottery Barn often uses animation in their emails to depict several products at once. It’s a double-duty move: it grabs readers’ attention and gets a variety of products face-time that wouldn’t be possible in a static email.

You can do the same thing with your messages, too! Sites like gickr, gifninja and Make a GIF take the hard work out of the process. All you have to do is upload your product images, then they instantly animate them for you – making an animated GIF for your email campaign in mere seconds that you’d upload to your email like any other image.

2. Simulate Product Demonstrations

Some products are more complex than others and take a little bit of explaining before you can really appreciate their benefits. That’s why informercials for products like ShamWow and Bumpits remain popular to this day – they provide demonstrations and explain the features and benefits that accompany them.

Williams-Sonoma does an excellent job of using animated GIFs to do just that. They created three simple images to explain exactly how their Breville Pie Maker takes the hard work out of pie making.

It’s not as hard as you’d think to do the same thing. Essentially, you just need to snap 3 or 4 photos to illustrate the most important steps for using your product, then use text to explain the rest of the details. Add them to one of the sites above, and ta-da! Instant animated GIF for your message.

3. Draw Attention to Your Call to Action

Even if your messages do a splendid job of displaying everything your company has to offer, they can sometimes fall short when inspiring readers to click-through to your site.

While actionable phrases like ‘shop new products,’ ‘see limited-time offers’ and ‘get 50% off’ are strong in their own merit, adding a little pizzaz with animation will surely catch your subscribers’ attention.

Fred Flare uses simple animation to bring attention to their call to action. You can animate action words and link them to the desired pages on your site, too, using a site like Text Anim 2.0 to generate your text. You can pick the font and color, type in your text and save it as an animated GIF.

Your To-Do List for Animating Your Emails

  1. If creating an animated loop of images, visit a site like gickr, gifninja or Make a GIF. Upload your product images, then they’ll turn them into an animated GIF. They’ll give you the URL for the image, so make sure you copy and paste it to someplace safe.
  2. If making an animated call to action, use a site like Text Anim 2.0, where you can easily animate as many words as you want using different fonts and patterns. They’ll also give you the URL for the image, so keep it safe.
  3. Insert the image in your email, then send yourself a test copy to see the animation in action!

Think You Will Give Animated GIFs a Try?

Not only can animated GIFs make your messages more creative, appealing and unique, but they can also help you earn more money, too.

When online retailer Bluefly tested their animated GIF usage, they found that animated shoppers who clicked through generated a 12% increase in dollars spent compared with non-animated shoppers.

Let us know if you decide to give them a try – we’d love to hear how they work for your campaign!


  1. Fernando Landim

    3/15/2011 11:21 am


    I never had thought about this option.

    I’ll use in the next broadcast.

  2. Ben Shore

    3/15/2011 11:30 am

    Thanks for the great post. I couldn’t agree more. Adding animated gif’s to my marketing campaigns has really increased click through rates.

  3. Silke

    3/15/2011 11:41 am

    I didn’t even know that you could use animated GIF’s in your email marketing, I will definitely give it a try. Thank you for the great tip.

  4. Hope

    3/15/2011 11:52 am

    This is a real cool concept. Ill try in my campaign. Thanks for the information

  5. Aaron Schulman

    3/15/2011 12:58 pm

    Rebecca – love this post- and we have not used this for some time.

    We actually did a test 2 years ago with a dental implant training client where we were selling some DVDs as well as classes.

    We took 1 of the videos and did a few animated frames where people could click through to see the actual video demos they could buy.

    It certainly produced more click-throughs and conversions versus a static or text based email as it followed AIDA to a tee-

    Got their Attention (and the attention was appropriate- not a gimick)

    Kept them interested

    Roused desire to see more

    And made the Call to Action very unmistakable. ..

    Thanks for this post – we will be testing more of these in some future mailings.

    Also- Swishmax converts swf, swi, or flash files to animated gifs as well (and I think flash can export that way- but not sure)

  6. Darren Scott Monroe

    3/15/2011 1:05 pm

    a. I will test. What would have been really cool if they took the eyes and made them slowly close in the sleep gif

  7. Chad White

    3/15/2011 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the great post on animated gifs, Rebecca. As you know I’m a sure fan of animated gifs. I just wanted to clarify that I tweeted that I hadn’t seen many “video gifs” lately, which are compressed streaming gifs. I see your garden variety animated gif all the time. Among the retailers I track, about 10% of all promotional emails they send include an animated gif. And that number held steady through the holiday season when volume spiked as it always does. Anyway, just wanted to clarify that. Would love to see more folks experimenting with animated gifs.

  8. Ranj

    3/15/2011 5:14 pm

    Had always wondered where to look to create these effective images and now I know where and how! Thanks for the great tip.

  9. Ken Siew

    3/15/2011 5:37 pm

    Very interesting and useful article on Animated GIFs! The basic text email has been dominating so far in the Internet Marketing world, but I wonder if Animated HTML email will prevail in specifically the Online Retail world? Mainly because the image of a product is the soul of a retail business. We have to be careful and selective with using animated images, however, because too many of them might distract the readers and therefore lose its effectiveness. The big idea is to use it only to emphasize the most important message in the email, whether it’s product highlight, demo, or call to action.

    Great job Rebecca!

  10. jerrym

    3/15/2011 7:16 pm

    well, i just dont know how effective it is when most people block their images in the e-mail, while others have them blocked by default and dont know how to change the settings or dont have time , or just dont care if they see images or not.

  11. Louisa

    3/15/2011 9:50 pm

    Very nice. Thanks for sharing.

    I will surely try this out. Images attracts attention, animated images should attract even more attention.

    Can’t wait to try!

  12. Marce

    3/15/2011 11:26 pm

    I like very much.
    Thanks for this post!

  13. AH

    3/16/2011 5:08 am

    how could I make a GIF the easiest way without using a website?
    can I do it in Photohop/GIMP too ?

  14. Joy

    3/16/2011 5:38 am

    This is a really nice idea – I will definitely try in out the newsletter next time

  15. Michael Pedzotti

    3/16/2011 7:42 am

    Thanks for this timely prompt. I am now thinking about how to spice up some of my emails. I had noticed a few animated images in emails sent to me by a few friends and although at the time I thought it was effective for drawing attention to an element on the page, I never thought to do it myself.

  16. MarkT

    3/16/2011 8:15 am

    As per usual another great post for everybody to think about implementing. Keep up the great posts Rebecca, I learn from you each time I read your posts. Thanks.

  17. Rebecca Swayze

    3/16/2011 8:19 am

    Thanks for the feedback everyone!

    Ben – That’s excellent! Glad to hear you’re seeing results.

    Aaron – Thanks for sharing that resource!

    Chad – Thanks for clarifying. I haven’t seen many video GIFs lately either. Interesting to hear that the number of regular animated GIFs held steady through the holiday season.

    Ken – Good question. I think you’re correct. As long as you are using the animated GIF to highlight the most important part of the message, without detracting from the rest of the email, anyone can use them successfully.

    AH – You can create an animated GIF in Photoshop. This link should help: http://creativetechs.com/tipsblog/build-animated-gifs-in-photoshop/

  18. Carlos Gallego

    3/17/2011 11:37 am

    Wow, excellent… I going to use in my next broadcast. Can i use it in Facebook?

  19. Kathy Kirk

    3/17/2011 11:44 am

    Way cool! I’m going to use it! Sounds fun.


    3/18/2011 2:37 am

    Yes I can see all kinds of things happenings here thats good.I sure would like one of them pies? the breville make pies like that? I will have to get me one? ha ha ha. Yes really i can see the possiblities here!

  21. Mikal

    3/18/2011 9:01 am

    Great article

    However, the restrictions and security of Outlook, when undertaking B2B emails renders this capability redundant. But for B2C, highly advantages.

  22. Winston Dunbar

    3/24/2011 8:26 am

    Thanks for the awesome information

  23. Matt Alston

    4/9/2011 5:12 pm

    Great post,

    I use abode suite to create graphics all the time. I have on many sites used rotating images or video to display a range of products without the customer having to click on anything. These techniques are of course web based and take setup typically some sort of scripting.

    Thanks for the reminder that a GIF is a 4 to 6 image movie that needs no setup to be viewed.

    I have seen and used them as icons and call to action buttons but never though of using them like Pottery barn does to change larger images.

    Great suggestion Thanks

  24. Stuart Stark

    4/14/2011 4:14 pm

    FYI – Animated Gif’s do not work in Outlook.

  25. OM

    4/16/2011 8:33 pm

    These are certainly great tips and tricks, keep up the good work

  26. Stephanie Fischbach

    4/18/2012 12:30 pm

    Thanks for posting this Rebecca! I love the subtle use of gifs in today’s marketing efforts and truly believe that it adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” that is lacking now a days. Instead of gifs being obnoxiously apparent, I think readers are more likely to be intrigued and want to learn more when gifs are done tastefully.

  27. Lauren

    6/20/2012 2:51 pm

    how many email clients have been tested with these? you mention outlook being one that didn’t work–with all of the new updates they did for 10, do you think it will? im a big supporter of putting “view in browser” as it is since many clients’ email programs differ. thanks for the article, very imformative!

  28. Justin Premick

    6/26/2012 8:10 am

    Hi Lauren,

    I agree that using a “view in browser” link can be very useful.

    With respect to Outlook 10 and GIFs — according to documentation on Microsoft’s site, they are not supported.