Images are a powerful tool for storytelling. One of the most useful assets for bringing your brand to life in email is imagery, and the use of simple animations-known as animated GIFs-can take your efforts to the next level. They work really well in email, catching the eye through movement, demonstrating a product's use, or telling a story more easily than a lone static frame.

Here are a few tips for using animated GIFs in email:

  1. Make it intentional. Don't use an animated GIF just because you can. Give it purpose and select sends to test it, looking at engagement with motion versus a static image.
  2. Make the first frame count. More current versions of Outlook don't support animated GIFs, but will display the first frame, so select it carefully.
  3. Link it. If you're trying to show a video simulation in the email through the use of a short animated GIF, link the animated GIF to a more robust YouTube video for additional playback, or simply to your main call-to-action.
  4. Use a styled alt tag and background color. Some email clients still block images by default, so it's always a good idea to use defensive design to ensure the email is functional and degrades gracefully with images off. You can style the color, font, and size of an alt tag with inline CSS:

    <td width="400" bgcolor="#586976"><img alt="Northern Trail Outfitters" src="image.gif" width="400" height="150" border="0" style="font-family: Arial; color: #ffffff; font-size: 36px; display: block;"></td>
  5. Be mindful of size. Animated GIFs are small and mighty, but can also be quite large if you're including a lot of frames like this example from Neiman Marcus. If using Portfolio within the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, remember that images should not exceed 200K. This won't affect the email's weight since image size is separate, and should only affect download time if using something larger.

Here are a few examples of my favorite animated GIFs used in email-click or tap each image to see the animation.

Support in Email
Good news-animated GIFs are supported quite universally in email on desktop and most mobile devices, with the exception of Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013. In this case, the first frame will still display, so you still can include it and deliver a good experience to all subscribers. If the animation contains any critical information aside from visually supplementing your message, be sure to include it as HTML text somewhere in the email.

JPGs, GIFs, and PNGs all remain solid choices for image formats supported in email. For more animated GIF inspiration and examples, check out our Email Swipe File on Pinterest.