GIPHY's David Rosenberg Talks Branded Content In The Age Of The GIF

on Sharethrough Events

Once again, as part of Ad Week Europe Sharethrough will be hosting its Native Ad Forum in London. On April 20, some of the most innovative minds in content creation from industry leading brands like GIPHY, Guardian Labs, Buzzfeed and Plista will take the stage alongside Sharethrough's own execs to talk about what they see coming up on native's horizons.

Ahead of his Native Ad Forum keynote, we talked to GIPHY's Head of Business Development David Rosenberg (pictured below in three-dimensional GIF glory) about the future of modern communication, the role of the GIF in branded content and the importance in 2016 of taking communication "one idea at a time."


What do you think the rise of GIPHY says about how we communicate these days?

People sometimes characterize the shift in how we communicate as one from long-form to extreme short form, the implication being that with the rise of emoji, stickers etc., we somehow lost our ability to express the richness of what we were feeling.

Don’t make ads, make GIFs people actually want to use.

At GIPHY we think about this a lot, and much of our product and business strategy is based around giving people the visual language with which to communicate in a way that is unique to them and richly expressive. This informs the partnerships we seek out with the most important creators of visual culture (like HBO) and why we’re building tools for people to make and personalize GIFs.

In short, we think that only by giving people a full visual dictionary, rather than, say, a finite set of icons, can modern communication – which is light, quick and mostly mobile – be best served. And therein lies part of the reason that GIPHY has seen so much success.


GIPHY seems uniquely suited to a media climate where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. How has this benefited the company?

I’m not entirely convinced that attention spans are getting shorter, but I do know that the places we are consuming media are less naturally suited to the complexity of longer forms. The nature of the newsfeed or Twitter stream is not one that rewards sticking around to read an entire article, but rather to consuming one idea at a time.

This is actually what excites partners about the medium - the idea that the gap between their content and “organic” GIF content is so small.

GIFs are exactly that, one idea at a time - that convey just the essence of the thing. In that way, GIFs can act as an amazing shorthand, a tease for a longer and more complicated idea. It’s also why they convert so well, because often they give just enough to cause you to pause and click. In this way, GIPHY is in an amazing position to work with a format that is not cannibalistic to rich media.

How do you see the role of the GIF changing on the modern Internet?

GIFs are an increasingly integral way that people understand what’s happening in the world. At GIPHY, we treat our trending feed (what you see when you open GIPHY.com) as a kind of front page for the web. On any given day you should be able to look at it and get a sense for what’s going on in the world. This is a long way from simple reaction GIFs. Ultimately the GIF format itself is so malleable, it’s likely the future lies in all of the ways they haven’t been used yet.


GIPHY has made early attempts to move toward branded content. How has this gone so far?

I’m not sure the dichotomy of branded vs non-branded holds up as well in the GIF world as it does elsewhere. If you look at the organic search results for any keyword on GIPHY, you will struggle to find a page of GIFs that are not full of "branded” content as it is traditionally understood.

GIFs are exactly that, one idea at a time - that convey just the essence of the thing. In that way, GIFs can act as an amazing shorthand, a tease for a longer and more complicated idea.

Search “hungry” on GIPHY, and you’ll find scenes from major network shows, retro McDonalds ads and probably a cat clawing at a fishbowl. The first two examples come from media or food brands, but they are also just good results for the query.

This is actually what excites partners about the medium - the idea that the gap between their content and “organic” GIF content is so small. In short, if you make good GIFs they won’t stick out as branded. This is why brands, studios, musicians and politicians want to work with us. GIPHY presents them an opportunity to enter the visual lexicon of our users without obviously coming across as salesy.

As time goes on, we’re being involved to significantly greater degrees as GIF moments and campaigns become a larger part of a brand or a public persona’s digital footprint.

What does the future of branded content look like on GIPHY?

In March 2016, GIPHY announced the opening of GIPHY Studios in LA, the world’s first GIF studio. We want to use the studio to further explore what’s possible with the GIF medium and eventually to work with brands to make animated content an integral part of any campaign.

What advice would you give any brand, starting to look at GIFs as potential brand vehicles?

Don’t make ads, make GIFs people actually want to use. In the UK, Halifax ran an awesome campaign on GIPHY in which they created hilarious GIFs for use when someone owes you money. It was fun and clever and we still see the GIFs used regularly on GIPHY many months after the campaign ended.