The History Of The Gif

Where did the Gif come from? And how can you use it in your marketing efforts?

In a short amount of time Gifs have become the favored medium of the internet when you want to express a sentiment in a humorous or clever way. But few people know the true history of the Gif, and what it can teach businesses and marketeers about using the format as part of a smart, effective and youth-oriented content marketing strategy.

Though the word “Gif” didn’t enter the cultural and digital lexicon until a few years ago, it’s actually been around much longer than the modern internet and social media era as we know it today. (Side note: despite this fact, people can’t seem to agree on how to pronounce it; some say it with a hard “G,” others insist it’s pronounced like the American peanut butter brand “jif”). In 1987, Steve Wilhite of Compuserve, the first major commercial online service in the United States, invented the Gif, which is an acronym for “Graphics Interchange Format”. Though a kerfuffle over copyright ensued with competitor Unisys, Wilhite is still considered the inventor of the medium.

So how was it first used?


If you’re of a certain age, you may remember flashing “under construction” signs or walking dinosaurs on the web pages of the early internet. Essentially animation via timed delays, those early Gifs held great appeal to website builders because of their compressed file size. Keep in mind that in the era of early 56k modems and outdated web browsers, the average YouTube video of today would take up to an hour to load, so the Gif was a great alternative.

Fast forward to today, and there’s no need for compressed file sizes and crude animation. However, the gif has experienced a renaissance thanks largely to its popularity on youth-oriented social networks like Tumblr. Because of this it has managed to become the lingua franca of the millennial web thanks to its ability to convey culturally relevant and nuanced sentiments in so few words. In an era of short attention spans and intense competition for eyeballs online, Gifs are a way of capturing the attention of a viewer and making a memorable impact without expecting them to spend too much time on your web page. In a way, they are old school and cool at the same time.

If you’re wondering how or where you can integrate the Gif medium into your content marketing strategy, here are some tips:

Use them in your emails: All marketeers wish their email blasts could make a bigger and better impact, and Gifs might just be the way to do that. A study done by the Email Institute found that Gifs embedded into emails resulted in a 26% higher click through rate from readers.

You can search or make your own: Websites like Giphy allow you to search for pre-made Gifs that express the sentiment you’re trying to get across. Or, you can make your own, using sites like and The beauty of this is that there is virtually no message or pithy sentiment that can’t be expressed in this fun format—you just need the wit to come up with it.

Use them across social platforms: In the competition for consumer attention, the gif has a great advantage: it’s short, pithy, impactful and to the point. This works great in the “endless scroll” of platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. When it takes a few seconds to read a 140 character tweet, you can’t expect your followers to click through to a two minute video, wait for it to load, and watch the whole thing. Instead, express what you want to say in a Gif that will load instantly, and you’re much more likely to gain traction and viewers.

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