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A Surprising Low-Tech Alternative To Video Emails

Jan 04 2010, 12:56 PM

Your customers have become accustomed to receiving instant online gratification, so when they open up your snazzy video email and it starts re-buffering, more than 4 out of 5 of them check out before the stream starts up again. However, from the dawn of the internet age (the prehistoric 9600 baud CompuServe to be exact) comes a remarkably suitable ol' skool solution: Animated GIFs.



Don't Let Megabytes Byte You
Many broadband connections slow down drastically at various times of the day and online traffic jams can happen anywhere and anytime. The unpredictability of your email's video stream doesn't just impact the viewer. If half a million people all open your video email in the same hour, you've effectively run a DOS attack on your own servers.

Video Killed The Email-o Star
Motion sells, and email marketers are not about to go back to the Still Age. Yet there is a way out of video bandwidth torment without resorting to static images... and it is the Animated GIF. What individual GIFs can do that other image formats like JPGs can't is to be loaded like a "movie projector" sequence in a browser or viewer, and in much smaller file sizes than most Flash or video. Animated GIFs is not a replacement for 30 frame per second video, but if you try to match your message to the medium you can derive some truly impressive results.

What Animated GIFs Can Do

Simple 2-D animations are best: a motion manga looks great
Loop infinitely until the user clicks them off.
Save you a ton of bandwidth: A properly optimized Animated GIF can be one tenth the file size of similar video.
Never buffer or stall.
Cost you a lot less to produce than sending a per diem video crew to the top of Mount Fuji.
Embed anywhere without a border or player.

What Animated GIFs Can't Do

Play 3-D and live action.
Provide truly smooth motion, fades, and morphs: You have to increase the frames per second rate to where the file size grows unacceptably.
Be resized.
It can only play once or loop: it does not provide any user controls.
Animated GIF Tips
Make sure the first and last frames contain the gist of your message. Although most browsers and email clients have no trouble with the format, a few will show only the start or end frame.

Keep the animation at under 10 frames per second. You might think "flip cards" but if you structure the motion properly, that speed does not seem jerky at all.

Keep it sparse. Animated GIFs don't share video's compression algorithms, so the less actual picture information you have on each image, the smaller the file size will be.

Avoid backgrounds. Keeping an Animated GIF with a white background atop a white background is best. The motion will seem to come right off the page, and you'll save oodles of bandwidth.

Dealing With Art Dept. Shock
Your designer or agency might think you've lost your marbles when you ask them for an Animated GIF, but remind them that the mighty Adobe Photoshop CS4 has a new and very powerful Animated GIF capability which is turning on a whole new generation of web artists.

There is no need to frustrate your customers or blow up your servers in order to provide motion in your email. Experiment with Animated GIFs and you may find that it's the compromise solution you've been looking for.

Posted in Email Design & Templates

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