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Gifs and the Ad Business

Technology investors are clearly bullish on GIFs. For many marketers, however, the ever-popular, silly, looping clips are mostly uncharted territory.

For example, last October the startup Giphy Inc. attracted investors to raise $72 million, bringing its valuation to about $600 million, even as the company is still trying to figure out a business model to bring in revenue [the company is testing some advertising with a select group of advertisers, noted a spokeswoman]. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley venture-capital veteran Roger McNamee recently compared Giphy’s rival Tenor to Snapchat in its early stages.

Both companies make it easy for people search through millions of GIFs and share them on their smartphones across the web and social networks. Naturally, marketers would like to join the party, but it isn’t entirely obvious where brands fit in the GIF world.

To help, Tenor has hired digital media veteran Jason Krebs as its first chief business officer. Mr. Krebs, who was previously head of sales at Maker Studios and logged stints at Condé Nast and Tremor Video, said over the next 90 days Tenor plans to roll out its first paid advertising product.

The plan, Mr. Krebs said, is to help marketers target people with branded GIFs based on the various emotions or feelings they search for via Tenor’s app, which is built into various mobile messaging platforms.

CMO Today caught up with Mr. Krebs to talk about his new mission and more.

People in the ad world surely know about how popular GIFs are. And they may know Giphy, which has gotten a lot of funding. What can you tell me about Tenor?

Mr. Krebs: In talking with people who use Tenor regularly, they often come back to this idea of using it to add tone to their conversations. From a technical standpoint, surfacing the perfect GIF quickly is not easy, so Tenor has built what we call the Emotional Graph, which basically maps the tens of thousands of emotions people want to communicate to millions of GIFs. And the company has built a massive base, now over 200 million monthly active consumers world-wide and 200 million daily search requests.

Aren’t GIFs mostly free for people to use? There are not really ways to insert ad messages alongside GIFs, are there? What should marketers do?

Mr. Krebs: There’s no inherent value in the GIF itself, which has been widely available on the web for years. In the mobile world, the value of GIF is in understanding what someone wants to communicate when searching. It’s about getting a point across better than words could. That’s Tenor’s sweet spot, the Emotional Graph, which is built by analyzing the data from our search usage. We see that about 90% of Tenor searches center on emotion. Think about the Snickers example. Tenor can help the company understand that there’s huge activity among consumers searching for GIFs related to “hungry,” “hangry,” “snack,” “yum,” “yummy,” “eat,” etc. If a consumer then sees that Snickers-branded GIF and shares it with his girlfriend or his buddy or entire social following, that’s incredibly valuable.

What’s your plan for your first six months?

Mr. Krebs: It is in many ways about education. As you’re suggesting, I’ve heard from a lot of marketers and their agencies that they are interested in GIFs but aren’t sure what to do. The conversation needs to start with this notion of understanding emotion and how people are expressing it in our increasingly mobile-centric lives. Tenor has a lot of interesting insights to share, and we’ll explore different ways of empowering marketers to get their message in front of the right consumers. We’ll also do the same for content owners. For example, we did some recent work for the “Lego Batman” movie.

You recently left Maker Studios. What do you make of how parent company Walt Disney Co. has reorganized the company and seemingly reduced how many influencers they work with?

Mr. Krebs: Focusing on the big stars that drive both the majority of views and the majority of advertising dollars is smart. It’s not drastically different from what a large group of people had been doing at Maker for the past three years or so. Disney has just made it more visible recently. Disney is utilizing Maker in a bunch of interesting ways. Some are just more obvious to outsiders. I had a great time there and continue to believe the work we did, and that they’re still doing, was transformational.

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