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Spicing Up Emails With Visual Content

Intouch Team

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Email has been and continues to be a strong performer in driving traffic to product websites and other desired destinations, but email marketers are facing two large hurdles: competing for the consumer’s attention and achieving engagement that ultimately pushes consumers further along the purchase funnel. Paired with this is the rise in popularity of visuals — both still and animated — as the preferred method of message delivery.

In the age of information overload, it’s becoming more important than ever to optimize emails for engagement and, ultimately, conversion. While various tactics have been employed to encourage email opens and clicks, content that incorporates animated GIFs and the use of video have emerged as growing trends.


While “showing” versus “telling” can be very powerful, email deliverability cannot suffer at the expense of user experience. 

Incorporating animated GIFs appropriately into email campaigns has been shown to be effective in encouraging engagement and conversion. The short, animated format allows the message to be consumed quickly in an engaging way, and the technology is well-supported in desktop, web-based and mobile environments (see appendix).

Animated GIFs provide marketers with the ability to capture the viewer’s attention through movement and draw the reader’s eye to a specific area within the email. 

  • According to an Experian survey published December 2012, 52 percent of marketers have used animated GIFs as part of their email campaigns.1 
  • Experian also reported that 72 percent of clients who have used animated GIFs and cinemagraphs2  experienced higher transaction-to-click rates. 
  • When online retailer Bluefly tested their animated GIF usage, they found that animated shoppers who clicked through generated a 12 percent increase in dollars spent, compared with non-animated shoppers.3

Animated GIF Case Study #1: bareMinerals®

Cosmetics company bareMinerals has implemented animated GIFs in emails on several occasions, but they specifically chose to use one to introduce their new product, Multi-Wrinkle Repair. Through the various frames of the GIF, both content and image were animated to highlight and explain the product’s unique benefits. With concise copy and discretionary use of animation, the GIF conveys the message quickly, retaining the attention of email subscribers while highlighting information. Note the animation’s powerful impact on the call-to-action after the last wrinkle.

Animated GIF Case Study #2: Kenneth Cole

Sent during the holiday season, this Kenneth Cole email featured an animation of a gift being unwrapped. Unfortunately, since a lot of major providers block images by default, the initial view of the email in the inbox fell flat. A good text-to-image ratio and strong use of alt tags are still key elements to the design

Case Study #3: Helzberg Diamonds 

Helzberg Diamonds used a personalized approach to promote a charm bracelet, with the animation spelling out the user’s name in charms.  The campaign was a huge success, increasing sales 288 percent compared to an email sent a week earlier promoting the same bracelet to the same audience.  They also saw an 85 percent increase in click-thrus.

Video support in email is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in email marketing.  As mobile device usage continues to climb, video becomes a natural fit for consuming content on smaller devices. However, video in email is still in its infancy and many desktop, web-based and mobile environments do not (yet) support the use of embedding this technology. 

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for video in email communications today.  When a thumbnail graphic of a video that links to a landing page or website is incorporated, the video becomes an engaging, track-able element of content that also can be repurposed. 

  • Viewing videos from a web page increases the length of time people stay on a page, giving the brand message longer to sink in.4
  • indicates using video on landing pages can increase conversion by 80 percent.5
  • Using the word “video” in the subject line of an email has been demonstrated to achieve increases in open rates of up to 20 percent vs. an identical message without the word “video” in the subject line.6
  • Video in email illustrated a 200 percent increase in click-thru rate (CTR) in a controlled A/B split in one example, 67 percent higher CTR vs. average campaigns in another.7
  • When optimized for SEO, videos are fifty times more likely to show up on the first page of any given search.8
  • Retail site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64 percent more likely to convert than other site visitors.9

Video Case Study #1: Ragan Communications

In an effort to change up their usual email content, Ragan Communications used a video to promote early bird registration for an upcoming corporate conference they were hosting. Email copy was minimal, and a thumbnail of the video linked to an event registration landing page. While email open rates remained consistent with other email campaigns, the campaign did achieve a 50 percent lift in CTR.

Video Case Study #2:

By including a video thumbnail in an email campaign to promote local travel offers, realized a 15 percent lift in CTR and a 30 percent lift in conversion. 

Video Case Study #3: HubSpot

To reengage with non-responders and drive traffic to their website, HubSpot created a video and included a thumbnail graphic and link to a specific landing page within their email campaign. HubSpot achieved a 16.4 percent CTR, which is 583% higher than the 2.4 percent industry benchmark. Additionally, because of the uniqueness of the video, their targets began sharing it on social media.


Animated GIFS: In cases where animated GIFs are not supported, recipients will see the first frame of the GIF. For this reason, the design of the first frame should work as a standalone, static image instead of being blank. Following general email best practices, including a link for email recipients to view email content in a browser window also allows them to view the animation.

Video in Emails: Since many desktop, web-based and mobile environments do not support the use of embedding this technology, including a link behind a video thumbnail that takes the recipient to a landing page is the most reliable way to ensure message receipt.

A/B Testing: Incorporating visual content elements within emails and gauging their effectiveness through A/B testing is highly recommended. Testing would be best run as a 50/50 split of the audience, with one half receiving a static email and the other receiving an animated or video email.  After a predetermined amount of time, click-thru rate and website conversion can be measured to pick the winner and finalize a long-term strategy for moving forward.


The use of animated GIFs and videos in email has been shown to be very effective for highlighting a call-to-action or a special promotion, as well as illustrating specific features and benefits of a product.
When considering your email design, it’s important to remember the message you are trying to convey — don’t just incorporate animation because you can. Really weigh your message, target audience and goals for the communication. Bottom line: good content equals good emails and good results, regardless of whether you “show” or “tell” your story. 


Animated GIF Support in Email

Source: “A new approach to an old format.” Ros Hodgekiss. April 12, 2012.

Video Support in Email

Source: “Video in Email.” Campaign Monitor.


Additional Sources

1 “Email Market Study: Acquisition and engagement tactics.” Experian Marketing Services. 2012.

2 Still photographs in which a minor, repeated movement occurs, usually published in an animated GIF format

3 “Animated GIF testing.” Bluefly. 2011.

4 Ubounce. June 2013.


6 EEC. 2012.

7 EEC. 2012.

8 Forrester Research. 2012.

9 Comscore. 2010



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