Gif Goof Gaffe

You wouldn’t believe how our first email marketing design change in years turned out!

As a child who grew up in the age of Harry Potter, my fascination with magic was very real. When Hagrid gave Harry the handbound album of pictures from his childhood, I just couldn’t hold back my tears. The sheer beauty of a moving image, shorter than a full video but more weighty than a picture was astounding to witness! But once I got over the wonderment and emotionality of the moment, I got down to thinking about how this looked so very familiar. That’s how I stumbled upon my longest running obsession since fantasy books- GIFs! You can find a perfect GIF for every single thought you may ever wish to express to someone. A cleverly placed GIF of Chandler has gotten me out of so many awkward situations!

My social awkwardness set aside, GIFs are the new age equivalent to simple emoticons of the 90’s. Using them in social media is now de rigeur and hence digital marketers are exploring other avenues where these can be put to good use. Our own social media manager posts weekly cinemagraphs too.

So what is a GIF?

GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is an image format developed by CompuServe in 1987. Owing to its support across most browsers and email clients, they have become an exceedingly popular image format. More importantly, GIFs can be animated. Like a flipbook, GIFs display a series of images to produce the illusion of motion. Animated GIFs are seeing a rebirth both on the interwebs and email marketing. While there is a considerable debate as to how you actually pronounce “GIF” (even in the Znbound office) most will agree that GIFs can turn out to be a phenomenal marketing tool.There has been a lot of buzz about using GIFs for email marketing since the early 2000’s. But why do people do so?

The Benefits of Using GIFs in Emails

  • Movement Attracts Attention and Clicks: In this age of social media bombardment, humans are so accustomed to videos that pictures very rarely grab the attention of a user. The movement of a GIF immediately draws the attention of the user, almost like dangling a feather toy in front of a cat!
  • Lead to a CTA: CTAs in an email are the most important clickable areas on an email for a digital marketer. Draw the eye of the user to these important areas to ensure a higher relevant CTR.
  • Add a Festive/Seasonal Touch: Adding a few snowflakes in the background of an email sent before Christmas lends a nice festive touch to your emails that is quite soothing even to the reader. As digital marketers, we strive to make the reader have an incredibly comfortable viewing experience every step of the way!
  • Mini Demo: With numerous SaaS clients, Znbound has always strived to make demos quick and painless. What better way to show a savvy UI than a crisp GIF? This was a “Eureka” moment for me and here’s hoping my boss thinks the same!
  • People actually watch it: With the average attention span of barely a few seconds on digital media, most people watch a GIF completely simply because they know that it’ll end soon! So using it sporadically with some really engaging content might just work!
  • Imbibe a touch of humor: Though many of us may be wordsmiths, there is a certain ease of conveying humor through motion. Using a GIF to convey humor will always translate well with the audience without too much effort on the part of the digital marketer.

Armed with this newfound knowledge we, at Znbound, decided that we should use GIFs in our newsletter. Sakshi our graphic designer and Sameer our web developer were able to craft a truly beautiful and engaging newsletter that we had high hopes for. With flagging CTRs, we were looking forward to a great response to our newly designed newsletter.

Here is what happened 🙁

Average Open Rates before GIFs= 35%

Average Open Rates after GIF incorporation= 10%

Open rates fell by over 70%. It could have been just an aberration. So, we continued the campaign. But, performance continued to suffer. The following table will give you a sense of the burnt fingers.

gifs performance in email marketing

Our Google Investigation

Our failure forces us to channel our inner Hermione and try to find out why! We found a few possibilities:

  • Lack of support: Not all email clients support GIFs and so it is integral to have the crux of your GIF in the very first frame.
  • Overusing: If there is an aggressive use of GIFs fatigue will set in quite quickly and the reader will begin to disregard your GIF. It will no longer serve its purpose of drawing the attention but will be blocked out, similar to pop up Adword ads.
  • Accessibility: Users who suffer from bad eyesight may disregard GIFs as too straining to their eyes. So do look at the demographics of your audience once. While these points were all good and fine, we did keep these in mind before using GIFs. But what we didn’t see a peep of online was the shocking trend we saw! Are you as disconcerted as we were? You couldn’t possibly be! Even though our click rates were up from a previous average of 2% to a whopping 5%, the overall effect was underwhelming. We brainstormed and researched quite a bit about the reason for the fall in open rates.

Our guesses

Were our subscribers feeling that the content offered was irrelevant? In a span of 1 week? We didn’t think so. Were our subject lines uninspiring? Couldn’t be that much worse than the previous week!.Were we sending too many/too few emails? We sent out emails once a week for years, our subscribers couldn’t be all that fatigued suddenly. Despite using the redesigned email for over 3 weeks, we just saw a declining open rate with each passing email. So we decided to switch it up. What if we eliminated the GIFs but kept the rest of the design static? After testing this method for a month we’ve come to an astonishing conclusion. The real reason why our open rates were down was because our email was getting stuck in spam filters. After this change, our traffic bounced back to its pre-redesign numbers and our CTR numbers were back up.


A recent email campaign done in December 2021 using just a single GIF turned out to be a similar party pooper.

Using GIFs as part of your email marketing strategy may turn out to be actually goofy, till the time email SPAM filters continue to improve, relentlessly.

This post was originally written by Nivanya in 2017. It may have been updated over time by other team members.

Team Znbound
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