The format is old

The Graphics Interchange Format was originally developed in 1987 by CompuServe.

Technically, the format leaves a lot to be desired. It only supports 256 colours and doesn’t seem to have much of a place on today’s web, which doesn’t face the same bandwidth limitations that were common in the 1990s when many consumers were coming online for the first time using connections slower than anyone would care to remember today.

But the Gif format’s saving grace is its support for animation.

With Flash on the decline and not being available on iOS devices, the Gif format, which is supported by just about every browser, is an ideal substitute for displaying short, looping animations and video clips without hassle.

They’re easy to create

Creating animated Gifs is a straightforward process.

Popular image editing programs, such as Photoshop, can be used to create animated Gifs, and there are applications, such as Giffing Tool, that are dedicated to Gif creation. In addition, there are many online services that make it easy to create Gifs from images and videos.

Gifs are really popular

On an internet obsessed with memes and self-expression, it’s no surprise that a file format for simple animations has seen its popularity surge.

Just how popular are Gifs today? According to the New York Times, Tumblr sees 23m Gifs posted to blogs on its service daily, and according to Experian Marketing Services, searches for Gifs have risen nine-fold in the past three years.

They’re sort of like emojis

Many see Gifs as the new emojis. “I’m able to express these really complex emotions in the span of two seconds,” Lucy Dikeou, a 21 year-old university student, told the New York Times when asked about her reasons for using Gifs.

Emojis, static picture characters that are commonly used to represent faces and everyday objects, have skyrocketed in popularity thanks in large part to mobile messaging. Using emojis, users can quickly and visually convey information and emotion not so easily conveyed with words alone.

Because of their popularity, brands are increasingly embracing emojis and incorporating them into their digital marketing campaigns. Some have even invested in creating their own emojis.

Entire companies are being built around them

Given their popularity, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs are building companies around Gifs and investors are flocking to fund them.

For example, Giphy, a search engine for Gifs, has raised more than $20m, while Riffsy, which makes a Gif keyboard app that allows mobile users to send Gif responses to mobile messages, has raised $10m.

Facebook is open to the idea of embracing them

Despite the risk of its social network becoming the next MySpace, Facebook began allowing animated Gifs on user pages in May, and is now giving some brands the ability to post them on their Facebook Pages and insert them in user news feeds as promoted posts.

If it “drives a great experience,” Facebook says it will consider extending support for Gifs to more brand pages. If and when that happens, awareness and use of Gifs could explode.

Brands should give them a look

While a limited number of brands like American fast food restaurant Wendy’s can use Gifs on Facebook, other brands are already embracing Gifs on their own.

Disney, for instance, has created its own Gif keyboard app called Disney Gif, which features animated Gifs from popular Disney movies like Star Wars and Frozen and television shows that air on Disney-owned networks.

Obviously, brands outside of the media industry will probably have more limited opportunities to use Gifs in a big way, but any brand that is investing heavily in video should at least consider the possibility that there’s a role for Gifs in their motion media mix.