New Way to Send Video Emails?

If you could send a “silent video email” to subscribers, would you?

In a previous discussion of how to send video emails, we noted that Flash and JavaScript (which video programs typically rely on) are blocked by pretty much every major email provider out there.


Our suggestion, then, was to put a picture of the video in your email and encourage subscribers to click on it to play the video.

This is a useful way to drive traffic to your video, but it’s not quite a video email – after all, there’s no movement to grab the reader’s attention. It uses a static image just like other HTML emails do.

Recently, someone took the idea of video email a step further and created an email marketing campaign that used video in a way that I hadn’t thought feasible – and it displayed properly in nearly all major email programs!

Here’s how she did it…

“Silent Video Email” Uses Animated GIF

Take a look at this email created for the movie “Twilight” (link opens in new window).

That video trailer playing on the left-hand side? It not only works on the web page, but it works in all major email clients except Outlook 2007 (which only displays the first frame of the trailer).

In other words, it works in:

  • AOL
  • Yahoo
  • Hotmail
  • Gmail
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • And More

Pretty cool, no?

How’d They Do That?

The email uses an animated GIF to simulate video.

GIFs have been used before in numerous email campaigns, but I’ve never seen one used on this kind of scale – most tend to be just a couple of frames and are often used to create small moving icons.

Anna was kind enough to post a detailed write-up of how she made the GIF. I’ve included my “Cliffs Notes” version below, but her write-up includes a lot of useful suggestions on frame rates, dimensions, colors, and other technical details that can help you create a high-quality animation.

  1. Record or capture video
  2. Convert video file to GIF
  3. Upload GIF to your website
  4. Put GIF into your email just like any other image
  5. Add remaining email content
  6. Test and send your email!

A Few Things to Consider When Using This Tactic

  1. This tactic can be useful not only for “normal” videos, but for any situation where animation might be helpful.

    Two quick examples of this: a 360-degree rotating view of a product and a “slideshow” of different rooms in a house for sale.

  2. You don’t get any sound in the email with this method.

    So if your original video has sound, and that sound adds meaning/value to the video, link the image to a page of your website where your subscribers can go watch the video with sound.

  3. If someone has images turned off, they’re not going to see the animation.

    Encourage subscribers to turn on images. Also, provide a text link to an online version of the video.

  4. Keep the video short and the file size small. The image in Anna’s example was over 2MB, which is pretty big, especially for subscribers on slow Internet connections.

    You want your image to load quickly, right?

Tools That Can Help You Create Animated GIFs

Note: I have not used any of these solutions yet to create animated GIFs from video. Neither I nor AWeber endorse any of these solutions in particular. I Googled most of them. Please use your best judgment in deciding whether any of these are a good fit for you.

  • Pro Motion – the software Anna used to create her GIF. Software download for Windows. Cost: $78.
  • VidGIF – software download for Windows. Cost: $29.95.
  • GIF Ninja – web-based video to GIF converter. Free. (But remember that when you use an online converter, you’re uploading your video to someone else’s site. If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t do it.)
  • VTubeTools – web-based video to GIF converter. Free.

I’m sure there are other tools out there that can do this as well, but hopefully that’s a good starting point.

Other Discussions of Using Animation as Video

You can read a couple other discussions about this email, and about video email in general, at:

What Do You Think?

Will you be trying animation in your own email marketing campaigns? Why/why not?

What pros/cons do you see to using animation as a “silent video” like this? What tips might you offer to make it as effective a tactic as possible?

30 Comments

  1. Christian Linhart

    1/12/2009 6:53 pm

    Thanks a lot for this tip.

    Actually for me it is relevant in two ways:

    1. I could use it in my own emails, which can be quite useful for the kind of product which I sell.

    2. Since I sell a screen recorder software, I’ll add an animated-GIF export-renderer to it and suggest the same email-strategy to my customers
    ( and recommend aweber.com to them πŸ™‚ )

  2. Chris Cantz

    1/12/2009 9:18 pm

    I really love the idea of this. As a target of viral email campaigns, I am particularly fond of the fact that there is no sound. I find sound to be intrusive when I’m not expecting it. I believe you could also achieve this using Image Ready. It’s brilliant and something I would love to work on (or at least work on video tutorials that show people how to do this)
    <shameless_plug> As a matter of fact, I applied last week for the video position you posted on your web site so hopefully I do get a chance to work on it. Look for the cool resume with the graphic of a small human sitting in a brown bag. </shameless_plug>

    Keep up the great work and congrats on hitting 50,000 customers!

  3. Mike Herberts

    1/13/2009 8:11 am

    Looks great but………I still haven’t been brave enough to move to html emails. Could you do an article on how to make that transition without losing dliverability?

    Happy new year to aweber….keep up the great work.

  4. Pete Monfre

    1/13/2009 9:15 am

    Great idea but unfortunately, the vast majority of people use Outlook. And converting movies (even short ones) to animated gif makes for a mighty big download. I recently launched a promotion that took about 10-15 sec. to load and people complained. See it here and judge for yourself: http://budurl.com/68rw

  5. Vladimir

    1/13/2009 9:42 am

    Hi Justin. It is a very good option, but I am just a beginner and it is difficult for me. Now I am doing my blog. Perhaps later I’ll use this opportunity.

  6. Judy H. Wright

    1/13/2009 9:45 am

    Hello from beatufiul Montana:

    Wow! This is exciting. Our team has been looking for new ways and methods of sharing a message of kindness, respect and tolerance in relationships.

    This allows us to show the body language component.

  7. Boris Mahovac

    1/13/2009 10:02 am

    @Mike,
    I don’t think you should fear HTML would impact your deliverability. If you include a TEXT version in your emails (send as dual format), and if your <strong>sender reputation</strong> is clean, you should have no problems delivering your emails.

    @Justin,
    What’s your experience with HTML vs. TEXT deliverability?

    As for video in email – I think I actually received an email with a music video some time ago and it played just fine within my Apple Mail client – if only I remember who it was from!

  8. Bob Ellis

    1/13/2009 5:39 pm

    Great idea and very informative. Since our company’s core competency is E-Learning, this provides a useful way to deliver non-narrated training presentations in marketing campaigns.

    Thanks for all of the useful tips…..Keep em’ coming!

  9. Bill Henthorn

    1/13/2009 7:10 pm

    Fantastic stuff, and thanks most kindly for the research and the how-to details!

  10. AL Ong

    1/14/2009 12:57 am

    Thanks for the info. It’s interesting especially I’m someone who likes to find out how things work.

    I totally appreciate the software used for creating gif and the advice given for free software.

    awesome!

  11. Jim Beaumont

    1/14/2009 1:21 am

    Take a look at Eyejot. We have used it numerous times and have gotten great feedback.

  12. Graham Price

    1/14/2009 1:13 pm

    Really good information and tips, many thanks. I have been advised recently to even steer away from including the html version in my email campaign’s – any comments/thoughts on this please?

  13. Matthew Clark

    1/14/2009 6:57 pm

    This is a great tip, I love it as it is simple and works!

  14. Justin Premick

    1/15/2009 11:27 am

    Graham (and Boris),

    HTML isn’t evil πŸ™‚ nor is it universally less deliverable than text.

    In my experience, it’s all about how you use it.

    Can email marketers do some foolish things with HTML that can suppress response and/or deliverability (like make their email one giant image, or use hard-to-read text colors and sizes)? Absolutely. But that’s not HTML’s fault – HTML email is just a tool! It’s up to the email marketer to use it well.

    I’m not suggesting that HTML is the way to go for everyone. It’s not. But unless your own tests have concluded that you get a better response with plain text, don’t write it off.

    Mike,

    That’s a great idea for an article. Thanks!

  15. Rudolf Boogerman

    1/15/2009 11:44 am

    I think a good quality single image will be as effective to send someone to an online video as a heavy animated gif.

    Also, gif is not suitable for video. The sample shown is at best a nice workaround, but you can tell that a lot of color information was lost during the conversion.
    However, I can imagine that if you show vectorial artwork(flat colors without gradients), animating a couple of frames can be quite effective, indeed.

    To Graham Price: You can use html but it is best to have a link at the top for an online version of yuor message, in case readers cannot view html.
    Most modern mail agents support html nowadays, but few people still prefer not to read in html, so they set their agent to text only.
    The line could read something like this:
    You can’t read this newsletter? Clcik here for the online version.

    Hope this helps πŸ™‚

  16. Chris Vendilli

    1/15/2009 6:11 pm

    This is supposed to be a very user-friendly free resource for converting short video files to the .gif format mentioned above. I’m still toying with it but it seems much simpler than the method described in your case study for the "Twilight" movie:

    http://zamzar.com/

  17. Wendy Merritt

    1/19/2009 5:15 pm

    What a great idea! I use animated gifs on my sites but never thought of utilizing it for an email. Thanks for thinking outside the box Anna and to AWeber for sharing it with us.

    I will have to give that a go.

  18. Steinar Knutsen

    1/27/2009 8:44 am

    This really is a great idea and much better in some cases to the standard text link or image link. Thanks for the great tip!

  19. James

    1/27/2009 7:54 pm

    Great article! Is this the same process that the guys at talkfusion use? I was just approached by a couple guys this week and wondered what made their solution different. interesting idea, but I’m not sure a silent video would be anymore effective than a nice graphic link to a video with sound.

  20. Maria Gudelis

    1/28/2009 1:04 am

    Wow – creating a gif out of the video – brilliant! I love sound though on my videos so have to think how best to create the video so it makes marketing sense without the video!

    Thanks for the idea!

  21. Laurie

    2/4/2009 9:06 am

    Hi,

    It sounds interesting, but, as you say, keep the file
    small! For example, I still have a slow internet connection,
    and if I see a message that’s large due to cumbersome
    html, or an attached file, I simply go to my ISP mail
    server and delete it directly.

    Also, I don’t like it for another reason: it presents an open
    invitation for the spread of trojans, viruses, and other
    malware via email.

    My overall opinion is to keep video on websites, please!
    I’m already fed-up with auto-loading video on every
    second marketing site I visit. I wish every site owner
    had the decency to give visitors the choice of whether
    or not to play a video.

    Thank you to all those site owners who do give me that
    choice!

  22. Rudolf Boogerman

    2/4/2009 1:14 pm

    Laurie, you take the words out of my mouth πŸ™‚

    Indeed, animation belongs on the web. Proper practice it to provide a link to animation, audio or video with an image button or a plain hyperlink to a website.

    Auto playing videosand audios are indeed one of the top annoyances of internet users. Imagine surfing in the middle of the night and suddenly an explosion of music wakes up the whole household.
    This is not only disturbing, it also consumes a lot of bandwidth for nothing because at least 50% of the viewers don’t even want to see or hear the media on your page.

    It is all about giving people a choice.

  23. James T.

    2/4/2009 8:13 pm

    This idea has merit. However
    I agree with most of the comments about unwanted sound
    intrusions when surfing during an otherwise quiet time.

    Silent gif displays are possible to catch the eye of the
    casual observer. I agree that they should be kept short and
    to the point with a modest palate of colors.

    I may try some of this on my site. I’m not sure of the mechanics
    of it to get it online.

    Thanks for the Idea.

  24. alexander

    2/11/2009 12:29 pm

    I see the relevance being that "picture says a thousand words". People like images because reading takes effort.

    You can get more attention and the novelty of it helps you stand out. Right now few people are doing it so the opportunities for your email to be above the crowd are huge.

    Also, it gives variety to your previously text exclusive emails and the human mind loves variety.

  25. norvelle

    2/22/2009 12:41 pm

    Thank you anna and justin for this tip! It will be helpful.

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  28. Declab

    4/11/2010 8:21 am

    Just got an email today with a YouTube video in it :O

    I could watch it in my Gmail account, right there in the email without leaving Gmail.

    When did this feature become available?

  29. Amanda Gagnon

    4/12/2010 9:31 am

    You can now embed YouTube videos into Gmail messages, however, they won’t be viewable by subscribers using other email clients.
    Also, the video displays at the bottom of the email, as opposed to a screenshot that can be positioned anywhere you like.
    As always, to find out which is more effective, run a split test. πŸ™‚

  30. Alan

    8/21/2010 7:30 pm

    GIFs are interesting, but I think the cleanest way is still the JPEG in the email for the viewer to click. It gets through all email systems, and a triangle in the middle of the picture of a person you know, is very inviting to click.

    Tokbox used to be good before they changed their service. mailVU and Eyejot are ready alternatives that are free and easy to use.