The Value of GIFs in Online Market Research

Maisie Furneaux

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What is a GIF and why should you know? Put simply, a GIF is a short video or group of several images, which continuously loop without requiring anyone to press play. GIFs are often used as entertainment; simply to make people laugh. But, GIFs can also be used as statements, replies or comments in online conversations, giving the people communicating the ability to convey reactions, illustrate or explain concepts in a fun and creative way.


In today’s modern society, young people are hyper-aware of self-expression; increasingly conscious of the authenticity behind everything. This creates a challenge for brands as they fight to add the required value to their customer experience. According to new research from Kantar Millward Brown, Generation Z is far more difficult to engage than other generations. As a result we have seen an increasing use of GIFs in related marketing and communication strategies. But what can we take from this in the world of online market research?

GIFs and Market Research

If we need to look at alternative ways to engage the expressive younger generations why not use GIFs? Research shows that emotional reactions are a better indicator of behaviour that conscious intent. Online, GIFs are one of the most favoured forms of emotional reaction. Inviting participants to convey this kind of emotion will allow us to connect with them on a more personal level.

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GIFs are one of the most favoured forms of emotional reaction online - Inviting market research participants to include GIFs in their feedback will allow us to connect with them on a deeper level

Online Market Research Opportunities

Recent research findings from Harris show that in the US 70% of consumers use visuals like Emoji’s and GIFS in text and mobile messaging. When asked, 80% felt they helped create a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings they were trying to communicate, as well as making them feel more connected to the people they message frequently.

By tapping into this trend in market research we can achieve deeper and more emotionally relatable insights without participants having to express their feelings in ways they may feel uncomfortable or un-natural doing. Participants will also be more likely to open up about difficult or sensitive subjects via the use of GIFs.


With their simplicity, GIFs have the ability to convey a single emotional gesture in a way that language simply can’t. Their analysis may be used to gage overall participant feeling in relation to research project objectives before conducting further analysis of text responses. They may be used inter analysis to enhance the insight gleaned from text outcomes or even to heighten participant understanding and experience with regard to quant questioning.

GIFs can also cross linguistic and cultural barriers. People are able to communicate with others who don’t speak the same language via GIFs - A consideration with regards to cross-cultural research.

GIFs as a Supplementary Feedback Mechanism

Used correctly with the correct audience GIFs enable researchers to build a rapport with participants very quickly. Rapport means trust and empathy and that is in addition to the rich, emotive feedback qualities of participant GIF use discussed above.

It is important to note however, that GIFs are only an effective feedback mechanism when used as part of a wider study. They are supplementary to other data collection methods as opposed to a replacement…

GIF Limitations in Online Market Research – Interpretation


Although GIFs present an opportunity for us to overcome cultural and language barriers, it is important to bear in mind that cultural differences can influence a person’s GIF choice and meaning. Different cultures may use similar GIFs with different intent as well as interpret with different meaning. And both usage and interpretation can change in line with cultural drift.

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Although GIFs present an opportunity for us to overcome cultural and language barriers. it is important to bear in mind that culture can influence a person’s GIF choice and meaning

A perfect demonstration of cultural GIF usage and interpretive differences can be found in a recent study conducted by The New York Times. The study compared popular emotional tags such as #happy, #sad and #angry. The resulting GIFs are shown on a country by country basis.

When using GIFs in market research, it is important to consider cultural perception to ensure insight interpretation is correct.


Cultural influences aide, GIFs must also be considered in context in order that they are interpreted correctly. Inter-country GIFs can still have different meanings in different situations and can be used to convey more than emotion. Taking a GIF depicting someone laughing as an example, in certain situations this is used to express how funny the user found the subject matter, but it can also be used to express ridicule, i.e. laughing in mockery.


The person analysing the GIF outcomes needs to be confident in their ability to recognise the contextual meaning behind a GIF if insight is it be accurate.


Although there are aspects involving GIFs that we need to be mindful of before we begin to use them in online market research practice, this is the case with any kind of research method. As long as we understand their limitations we can accommodate for them.

GIFs present us with a modern way of collecting data from the younger generations (at least) who can pose an engagement challenge.

Our participants and their expectations are evolving at speed. We are consistently faced with the need to adapt our research methods, to make them more relevant to the people we are targeting. Both using and encouraging the use of GIFs could certainly be another win in online market research popularity both client and participant side.

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