A Brief
History of GIFs

GIFS are an inescapable part of internet culture — and a staple of our brand activations — but where do they come from, and why are they so popular?

From the moment you wake up, it won’t be long until you come across a GIF — be it on Instagram, in an email or via WhatsApp. But where did the phenomenon begin?

GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Invented in 1987, GIFs were first used to transfer highly-compressed video files in 256 colour bits per-frame. In the days before WiFi (remember dial-up modems?) the speed this provided was very handy. Early adoption took place during the dot-com boom, with web developers applying GIFs in a number of typically garish ways — think flashing construction cones, luminous banners and annoyingly addictive dancing bananas.

A linchpin in the popularity and widespread use of the GIF since 2013 is the GIF search engine, Giphy — the ‘Google of GIFs’. The site became the global go-to, acquiring a number of other smaller businesses, and reaching 200 million daily users in 2017. As the authority for all things GIF-related, they even held their very own Giphy Film Fest this November.

The GIF Today

 

Now in 2018, GIFs have become a mainstay of internet culture, and a form of digital communication used everywhere from entertainment, the news and advertising, to app onboarding and product instructions. The rise of smartphones can answer for a lot of this growth; with the ability to consume content on the go, GIFs became an ideal medium for communication — quick and easy to engage with, and no sound to annoy others close by.

The second catalyst has been that that with faster internet connections, more colours, increased dimensions and bigger file sizes can be used. This has led to GIFs made from complex animations and videos, resulting in the meme explosion that we know and love well.

GIF Culture

 

With wider access through sites like Giphy, GIF culture took off during the 2000s, with splinter groups appearing worldwide. This gave birth to a diverse network of exciting communities and subcultures — some of which died out, others which are thriving today.

One such group builds on the recent resurgence of 35mm film, using cameras like the Nishika N8000 to create stereoscopic (or “3D wiggle”) GIFs. Film is shot, developed, scanned, then stitched together. One of the groundbreakers and leaders of this movement is our resident pro skateboard photographer and creative technician, Raf. Originally shooting for Palace Skateboards, he captures amazing photos of the London skate scene.

Our Take

 

It’s incredible when you consider how far GIFs have come over the years. That the format has evolved and moved with shifts in our digital behaviour and the technology available is a sign of its endurance. GIFs still represent a powerful asset in brand marketer’s toolkit.

To make them work, you’ve got to be fast — both in terms of using super-current themes and applying the latest techniques. It’s important to create content that’s quickly and easily digestible across multiple platforms, simultaneously gaining attention, getting clicks and moving your target audience.

As avid followers of GIF culture and its application, we’ve found original ways to use the format in the content we create. If you want to know how GIFs could work for your brand message, get in touch.

(And we’ll leave the debate of how to pronounce GIF for another time…)