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How Animated GIFs are Changing Real-Time Sporting Events

This post was written by Mac Cullen, Megan Garafola and Matthew Whatley, Digital Strategists in the Social@Ogilvy Washington, DC office.

This week, as we watched closely for the latest and greatest in social at the World Cup, one type of content showed up time and time again in our feeds: animated GIFs. Around for years but only recently seeing a resurgence, we take a look at why GIFs are the images of choice during live events, especially sports.

Why GIFs? Because We’re Not Poets

Watching sports can be an emotional experience, especially during the month of World Cup play, where a four-year wait and nationalistic fervor don’t leave much room for rational thought.

Expressing those emotions is a tricky business, however. It’s hard – and even harder in 140 characters. GIFs let fans (mostly non-poets) express their emotional elation, outrage and devastation in a way that a 140 character count may not allow. They are able to express to a level of nuance and intensity that no amount of exclamation points or capital letters can indicate. Take a look at these GIFs and see if you can come up with a better expression of the emotion in 140 characters and you’ll see what I mean.

Journalists Leverage a “New” Medium

Despite the antiquity of the GIF, there’s no doubt its endless loops capturing single moments in time have newly captured the attention of millions of web users. The animation in a GIF makes it more compelling than a static photo, and the small file size makes it more immediate than a video. Although Tumblr has been ground zero for the best GIFs on the web, Twitter made waves during the start of the World Cup with its surprise announcement that the platform would begin supporting GIFs. With that news, we’ve seen many examples of journalists capitalizing on format to punctuate their reports on World Cup games.

One of our favorite examples of great GIF-powered journalism was Slate’s post on the abundant energy of Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera. The GIF format works perfectly for the story; a simple photograph wouldn’t capture the emotion, energy and passion Herrera has – and the endless looping just hammers the point home with hilarity. We’re with Josh and the Slate team, the GIF below might be the greatest GIF in the history of GIFs.

Soccer is a tremendously fast-paced sport and sometimes you need a replay to see how a play unfolded when things escalate quickly. BuzzFeed Sports utilized GIFs to capture a miraculous save by Portugal during the US-Portugal game this week. During worldwide events with millions of people tweeting, its GIFs that capture near misses like this one that become Internet currency and instantly viral.

Can Brands use GIFs? Aren’t they just for Teens?

Yes, brands can use GIFs and no, they’re not just for teens. Without a doubt, there are several reasons for brands to incorporate GIFs into their social efforts. On top of capturing emotion, GIFs are also highly sharable, capable of telling stories and adding action to otherwise stagnant content. And let’s be honest – GIFs make content a lot more fun. World Cup sponsor Adidas Football has caught on, creating flashy, action-packed GIFs on their Tumblr account.

However, brands shouldn’t go GIF-crazy; there are many questions to answer before going all-in. First off, are you willing to take the time to create your own content? GIFs, like any other piece of content, are considered property and require permission from the creator before posting. Therefore, creating your own GIFs (and avoiding featuring public figures who won’t give you permission to use their likeness) is one of the easiest ways to avoid copyright issues. Brands eager to leverage GIFs must first understand the full legality of the “fair use” of the copyright act, and push this content  through various levels of internal review (yes, including legal) before posting. Like any other piece of visual content, they take time to look just right.

But if you can find the right GIFs that complement and add to your brand identity, it can only be a win for your content strategy. Now you tell us, what’s your favorite World Cup GIF?