Influence: Stay in the Loop

Influence is a new regular feature that explores the power of influencers, micro-trends, and how social media is shaping the contemporary hospitality industry.

After months of speculation, GIFs finally found their way into Instagram Stories at the end of January. A mainstay of internet communication since its invention by web technology pioneer Steve Wilhite in 1987, the Graphics Interchange Format has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since the advent of social media, with 2015’s introduction of GIF-esque Boomerang and 2016’s GIF-search integration on Twitter breathing new life into the loop.

Alyssa Coscarelli (94.6k) and Courtney Trop (300k)
Alyssa Coscarelli (94.6k) and Courtney Trop (300k)

According to GIF search engine Giphy, 300 million of us are sharing more than two billion eternally looping images each and every day – a figure almost certain to rise as IG fanatics get to grips with using the expressive images in their Stories; something top influencers like Alyssa Coscarelli (94.6k) and Courtney Trop (300k) are already doing. Over on Twitter, the GIF has become somewhat ubiquitous as a response that can capture many an emotion, with the ‘White Guy Blinking’ GIF one of 2017’s most-used ripostes, clocking up 226 million views along the way.

With these sorts of figures, it is easy to see how brands are keen to get in on the act. “We are starting to see this behaviour where people are using content and culture to communicate – they’re not using words anymore”, explained Giphy’s chief operating officer, Adam Leibsohn, in response to Twitter rolling out GIF autoplay in its news feed. “When they’re doing that, there’s an opportunity for that culture to come from a brand.”

Millie Bobby Brown for Converse
Millie Bobby Brown for Converse

Harnessing both the omnipresence of GIF culture and the potency of influencer power, Converse recently roped in the world’s most in-demand teen for a new back-to-school collection campaign – Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown (13.6m) who created a weighty series of 32 reaction GIFs, each embodying a ‘First Day Feel’. From joy to horror, aloofness to swagger, Brown’s significant stock practically guarantees their shareability, ensuring a brand connection that will permeate popular culture with real authenticity.

Back at the tail-end of 2014, Netflix – the entertainment company who blessed Brown with that cultural stock – were already using the GIF to cement brand awareness, taking the image format to the streets as part of an outdoor ad campaign created by Ogilvy Paris. A few years on and Netflix’s GIF game is a major part of their marketing capacity, with their Giphy channel boasting more than 3,800 uploads and a staggering 1.7 billion views. Combining the cultural gravity of their hit TV shows with snowballing GIF usage, the brand’s ability for authentic crossover is the marketeers Holy Grail; micro-ads with minimal investment that are shared time and time again.

More than 148.3 million people now use the internet to make reservations for accommodation, tours, and activities, a figure that exceeds 57 per cent of all travel reservations each year. With mobile’s share of digital advertising spend in the travel industry now evenly balanced with desktop advertising (49 per cent vs 51 per cent), statistics prove that it’s simply a matter of time until it represents the majority of the industry’s ad spend. With figures like these, and the unquestionable dominance of looping micro-video formats, it is high time that the travel industry follows big brands like Converse and Netflix down the path of GIF enlightenment.

That’s not to say that some names are not already dipping their feet into the waters of micro-videos and looping images. Airbnb have won plaudits for their animated clips created by London-based studio Animade, who brought the shareconomy giant’s Bélo logo to life in various iterations. Creating GIFs for different scenarios, clips produced for the New York City marathon and Brooklyn half marathon were brilliantly executed, allowing Airbnb to quickly and simply introduce charm and character into their social media feeds.

Animade for Airbnb

Ace Hotel have been active, too, creating quirky scenes that add interest to their Instagram feed in collaboration with GIF artist Ryan John Bush – the Portland-based creative brought a surrealist aesthetic to a series of posts that were used to promote the Ace Hotel Shop over the last Christmas period. The Standard even host the regular GIF Guide to New Way Voguing event at their Downtown Los Angeles hotel.

A look through 2017’s biggest brands on Giphy, though, sees the travel industry lagging well behind, clocking up a grand total of zero entries. Naturally, media giants with pre-made content ride high — the Warner Archive boats 2.4 billion views, VH1 1.7 billion, Red Bull 924 million (the chart is topped by meme kings Cheezburger, who have a gargantuan 13.7 billion views) — but as far as marketing activities go, GIF-making is an inexpensive option. In fact, 2017’s most-shared GIF was a lo-fi stop motion animation from Chicago-based artist Anna Hrachovec — a response to 2016’s United States presidential election, the image accrued 340 million views last year; its total now standing close to 600 million.

Getting deeper into just how consumers find and share branded GIFs, Tenor – creator of the GIF Keyboard – recently pulled out search data on four big marketers: Domino’s, Netflix, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks. Coffee fans, for example, searched ‘good morning’ two million times each month before using a Starbucks-branded GIF; just 65,000 used Netflix GIFs after searching ‘Netflix and chill’, but a whopping six million had used the word ‘sad’. “The creative sides of the agencies are going to see a brand new world”, reveals Tenor’s chief business officer, Jason Krebs. “This is data and information that they’ve really only seen (previously) in small focus groups.”

Entering an already saturated scene might seem daunting for some travel brands, but using analysis like this can help you find your niche. ‘Happy’, for example, pulls up 130,749 GIFs on Giphy, whilst ‘massage’ delivers just 4,016. Most interestingly, a fraction of a scroll down that page finds a short and simple animation that could be produced relatively cheaply by any experienced GIF artist – with over 3.5 million views, the addition of a subtle hotel logo could have seen impressive return on a small outlay.

As leading IG influencers beginning rolling out their animated additions to Stories, and the GIF continues to replace language on Twitter and beyond, the influence of one of the internet’s oldest file formats continues to rise. If you want to remain in the loop, now is the time to embrace it.

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Lisa Davidson
A traveller with a nose for curiosity, Lisa Davidson co-runs online culture-led travel magazine We Heart and has an insatiable appetite for the hidden corners of cities, long empty beaches and well-crafted cocktails.