Cinemagraphs (Animated Gifs) As Ads? Tumblr Experiments With New Advertising Format

GIF, a filetype that celebrated its 25th anniversary this past June (don’t you feel old now?), won’t die. And the animated GIF, in particular, has seen a notable resurgence recently, as a newer, younger group of netizens rediscover its capabilities, posting GIFs to social networks, blogs and in fashion editorials. “Cinemagraph“-making apps became trendy, and Tumblr posts filled with animated GIFs ranging from the artsy to the humorous. But animated GIFs aren’t just for fun anymore – Tumblr has turned them into a money-making tool. Yesterday, the company ran a sponsored animated GIF in its Tumblr Radar section, and not surprisingly, it was for fashion brand Calvin Klein.

Yes, you read that right: cinemagraphs (animated GIFs), are Tumblr ads now.

You may remember that Tumblr first rolled out its advertising products in May of this year, announcing the ability for advertisers to pay for a spot in either Tumblr Radar or Tumblr Spotlight. For those unfamiliar with Tumblr terminology, Radar is the section on the right side of the Tumblr dashboard that displays an image from another Tumblr user’s blog, the blog’s title, and offers buttons that let you follow, reblog or like the post in question. Spotlight, meanwhile, is an editorially curated selection of the best of Tumblr.

Ads on Radar are designated by a dollar sign “$” next to the name of the blog being promoted along with text reading “sponsored by” and the name of the advertiser. While these ad units have been available since spring, it’s been hard to spot an advertisement on Radar, which usually just shows content Tumblr thinks you’ll like. The reason for this is because Tumblr advertisers pay for access to just 5% of the company’s daily traffic. Starting at rates of $25,000 per day and up, the advertiser buys a package that offers them a small slice of the some 120 million+ impressions on Radar as well as a featured position in Spotlight, which comes as a part of the ad package deal.

It’s here on Radar where the ad for Calvin Klein ran, featuring an animated GIF as the eye-catching image. And although this is the first time some folks spotted the animated GIF format (see, for example, David Chatier’s post and a reblog from MG Siegler, a Tumblr investor via CrunchFund), Tumblr says this is not actually the first advertiser to have used the GIF format. Other advertisers who have advertised via animated GIFs have included Coca Cola, Puma, American Apparel, MTV, VH1, Adidas, College Humor, and the movies “The Expendables 2,” “Ruby Sparks,” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” In total, around a dozen sponsored GIFs have run over the past two months, alongside other types of ads.

“You can use any post in the Tumblr Radar,” explains Tumblr’s Director of Product Danielle Strle, “so we’ve seen photo posts, a few video posts, and around a dozen animated GIFs.” She says that some of the animated GIFs have been really subtle, so users may not have even noticed the movement. But she does push advertisers who want to experiment with a different type of ad to choose the GIF format. “When people say they want to use video, I actually do tend to encourage them to use the animated GIF,” she says. “It’s such a magical format – it’s all the visual and immediacy of video, without the barrier to entry of the play button.”

One of the more popular animated GIF ads was Coca Cola’s, which ran around two weeks ago. In the first 24 hours, it received 35,000 “notes,” which is Tumblr’s term for likes and reblogs combined. By day two, that number had reached 60,000. And in the days since, it has spread around the Tumblr network, receiving some 17,000 to 18,000 more notes. Strle says she would be shocked if people didn’t continue reblogging that same GIF next summer, too. “Content on Tumblr tends to be really evergreen and has a long life cycle,” she says.

Well, she may be right on that point – animated GIFs, given how long they’ve lasted on the web, do appear to have a timeless appeal. But whether their recent comeback will eventually translate into a core piece of Tumblr’s business model remains to be seen. Still, there’s a lot more room to experiment here – the ads Tumblr runs today are web-only. Strle says mobile ads are on the roadmap, but declined to say when those will debut.

Image credits: Calvin Klein –; others – Tumblr