Messaging App Kik Begins Offering Branded GIFs

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Brands, start your GIF engines. Kik, the chat app with over 275 million registered users, is giving companies the chance to augment their existing marketing efforts with branded GIF campaigns on its messaging service.

Kik, which is valued at over $1 billion and particularly popular with teens/young people in North America, is starting out slowly. It selected Zoolander No. 2 — the Paramount Pictures’ film that premiers February 12 — and WWF as its first two branded GIF content partners because they best represent its focus on entertainment (films) and fun (animal GIFs).

The launch of branded GIFs on Kik, which are charged based on reach like other promotional units, comes some eighteen months after the Canada-based company began allowing brands to operate official accounts on its platform. They enable brands to run bots that interact with users to serve up content or generally entertain using predefined chat messages triggered by keywords. Kik believes that branded GIFs — which don’t require a brand to have an official account — open a new channel to spread content and entertain.

“Our audience being teenagers and young adults is an attractive set for the right brands,” Paul Gray, product strategist at Kik, told TechCrunch in an interview. “[Branded GIFs] are about as native as it gets, they fit naturally into conversations.”

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Branded GIFs appear in Kik’s nifty emoji-powered GIF search engine just like regular GIFs, for example the WWF panda above

In the case of the Zoolander sequel, Gray explained that Paramount — which has run branded accounts on Kik in the past — was sold on the idea that animated GIFs “get people excited and sharing about the movie without a banner ad.” In other words, sharing a GIF from Zoolander 2 is a more subtle way to get word out and, coming from a friend and being fun, the message might just carry more weight (or complement) online and offline marketing campaigns. (Riffsy CEO David McIntosh recently made the case that GIFs are languages themselves.)

Gray said that the branded GIF initiative will open to more partners over the coming few months, but he cautioned that Kik will be selective about the partners it works with.

“We’ve always been very careful with how we roll things out,” he explained. “We do a lot of updates to [our overall library of] GIFs based on seasonality. [With branded GIFs] we wanted to be very careful [and] talk to exciting brand partners.”

Rotating the selection of GIFs is something that makes a lot of sense, but is perhaps not obvious. Kik, for example, added a series of GIFs based around DJ Khaled, whose antics on Snapchat made him into a viral hit, while it also recently introduced dedicated GIFs for the upcoming Super Bowl 50 final and the NBA All-Star game. In terms of branded GIFs, Gray sees the Academy Awards and VMAs as events where brands might take advantage of this new option within Kik, assuming they pass its ‘coolness’ criteria first.

Kik was among the first pioneers of chat bots (it even acquired the company behind one bot), which is a concept that Slack, Facebook Messenger and others are now embracing. It’ll be interesting to see if its approach to branded GIFs is replicated by others, too.