Ecommerce Guide to Building & Using Animated GIFs in Emails

animated gif's

Every once in awhile, I see an email that makes me rethink my views on email marketing.  The Sherwin Williams email above is one of the best I’ve come across recently.

Here’s the full email:
Sherwin-Williams Animated GIF Email

Why is it a great email?

  • It’s enjoyable (I like seeing how the room looks different with different colors)
  • It’s different (It’s not like all the other emails I get)
  • It tells a story (Sherwin Williams has plenty of colors that can match what I want and look great)

What drives it? An Animated GIF.  One of those old school moving pictures from the nineties that used to power flickering flames and under construction banners on Geocities sites.  But this is different – rather than being cheesy, it enhances the recipients experience.

Here’s the thing – they are way easier to make than you think.  This post has two goals:

  1. To give you good examples of where animated GIF’s work well in emails (particularly ecommerce)
  2. To show you how to make your own. I’ll show you two that I made in less than 15 minutes each.

The Return of Animated GIF’s in Emails

There’s a fine line between annoying and cheesy with animated GIF’s, but for the same reasons the Sherwin Williams email was great, a well-used GIF can be fantastic.

A few more examples:
kate spade

This Kate Spade email does a great job of telling the story of a specific product – namely that it’s available in a range of colors, from the bright to the more understated.

Holiday Emails with Animation

This Ralph Lauren header is visually appealing and doesn’t distract from the underlying message.

Countdown timer

I had multiple people forward this Macy’s email to me last week.  While this is just a static screenshot of it, when they sent it that countdown timer was fully working and live.  To do it, they used an animated GIF that was continually replaced with a new one.

Why (and why not) to Use Animated GIF’s

The advantages of using animated GIF’s are higher open rates and better engagement, as well as just being a better way to tell some types of stories. For example, here’s an animated GIF that we use in an email to our users to tell them how to turn on their email flows:

turning on flows 2

This format does a better job telling users what to do and is an overall better user experience. Likewise, I’d much rather get the Sherwin-Williams email with changing wall colors than a static email.

The downside: animated GIF’s aren’t supported in Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013, and instead of seeing the animation, your recipients will see just the first image. Given this, we recommend making sure that your first image also tells part of the story.

The second downside: done poorly (or too frequently), they can be annoying. As with all emails, animated GIF’s should be used to improve the recipients experience.

How to Build an Animated GIF in 15 Minutes

I built the animated GIF below in ten minutes from a series of images I grabbed off of LIFX’s website (I recently ordered one of their bulbs, and it has been awesome).
Changing Bulb Colors
There are two ways to get started:

  • Using a series of 3-10 pictures
  • Using an existing video

No matter which route you take, it shouldn’t take you more than 15-30 minutes.

Building your Animated GIF from Pictures

If you’re going the picture route, the first step is collecting a series of 3-10 pictures that tell your story. Some ideas:

  • Different products on your website with consistent backgrounds and of a similar size
  • Different color options of a single product
  • One image with slight changes in text on it (for example the Tiffany’s example above or the House of Cards example in the Netflix email in this post)

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pull together images. Make sure they line up with each other.
  2. Use a free online tool to turn them into an animated GIF.  (~5 minutes and no technical knowledge needed at all)
    1. I used It seemed to be the best combination of super simple, free and having an easy way to change how fast or slow the GIF switched between images

From there, just save your image and use it as you normally would – it’ll act just like a regular image in all other respects.

Building your Animated GIF from Video

Another option is to take an existing video and convert it into a GIF.  One of my favorite examples of this are these images by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg used to market Dogfish Head’s strawberry and honey flavored seasonal beer:

Making Dogfish Head

If you either have an existing video or can shoot a short one, it’s incredibly easy to convert that into an animated GIF.

Here’s how I made the image above showing how to turn on emails:

  1. Create the video / find an existing one (I used Camtasia to film a quick 5 second video of me navigating around my screen)
  2. Translate it into a GIF using a free online tool (~5 minutes and no technical knowledge needed at all)
    1. I used Blog GIF’s video GIF maker. It was free and higher quality than other options I tried.
    2. I changed the pixels and frame rate, but even with default settings it looked good.

As with creating the animated GIF with images above, once you’ve created and saved it, it will act just like a regular image file.

Ideas for Getting Started

Animated GIF’s work great for special occasions.  A few ideas for using them:

  • Your welcome email
  • Special offers and sales
  • The Holidays

Or for any story that you think might be told particularly well with one. As always, stores do best when they consistently use email to deliver value to their customers. What are your thoughts on animated GIF’s? Great every once in awhile? Annoying?


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1 comment

  • I’ve never received an email with an animated GIF, but to me, as long as it’s relevant, I love them. I especially love the ones that are made from TV shows and/or anything related to celebrities.

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