Brands, don't freak out about Giphy's prototype GIF camera

During his talk at SXSW 2018, Giphy chief executive Alex Chung announced the prototype of a hardware camera and frame. But will it ever launch?

At SXSW this week, chief executive of micro-content superpower Giphy announced their latest innovation: a physical product. Or two, to be precise.

I use the term ‘announced’ loosely, however.

Alex Chung –  who heads up the platform that serves an insane 6 billion GIFs around the world every day – spoke briefly and superficially about the Giphy Camera and Giphy Frame.

During an impossibly cool presentation that ended with Chung shimmying off stage whilst confirming that his personal preference for the pronunciation of "GIF" with a G, not a J (contradicting the very man who invented the technology, Steve Wilhite), he did reveal that the frame is just 2.5mm thick and its goal is to render GIFs as physical objects.

Though he swerved the question of when either product would come to market and at what price (by sowing seeds of doubt as to whether they even would), I’m more interested in the Camera than I am the Frame. I had one of those digital photo frames for a while, but goodness knows where it is now.

Chung likens the Camera to those fantastically nostalgic disposable cameras we loved using at parties as teenagers. I confess, I bought one again last year and loved every shot. He insists there’s an emotional aspect to the object and its output that I can’t help but compare to the beloved Polaroid. 

Of course, the other obvious digital to analogue move is Snapchat’s 2016 attempt at hardware: Spectacles.

An uncovered element from this whirlwind of a talk was the output itself, which is naturally, the very crux of the thing. What the Giphy Camera creates will dictate how all users (that’s us as consumers, brands and advertisers too) will interact with the object both during and after use.

Will the camera produce a piece of physical collateral – perhaps working in tandem with Giphy Frame? – or will the result be purely digital? If digital, how might it differ from GIFs that we can already produce with ease thanks to the wildly popular smartphone app "Giphy Cam"? These questions lie at the heart of understanding how this exciting, if perhaps ephemeral, this piece of hardware could be used in the communications we make.

This tech being truly valuable to brands will rely mainly on it producing something different to what can already be achieved elsewhere. If this is not the case, it will remain more focused on the consumer realm: offering the everyman a way to create GIF content of their lives that sports a whiff of nostalgia thanks to its monofunctionality. Do you think Polaroids would’ve made such a comeback if they’d have been just another app? Me neither.

If the Giphy Camera becomes a coveted piece of kit that’s not widely adopted – perhaps due to price point, or inability to justify the purchase for the frivolity – brands might leverage this to offer their customers a piece of digital or physical content they otherwise wouldn’t be able to own.

Akin to VR experiences facilitated in shopping centres nationwide, the tech acts as a vector for the offering of something rare and valuable, strengthening brand affinity, at least for a moment in time. The brand might also take a more passive approach, adopting the Giphy Camera into its vernacular to appropriate its emotionality as a sign of connection with a distinctly Gen Z audience (just as Urban Outfitters play to the yesteryear aesthetic of Polaroids, it’s not hard to imagine Domino’s or Asos going hard on the "Giphys").

Either way, if the output isn’t something just a bit special, the Giphy Camera will remain at best a production tool for brands and advertisers to quickly make more 6-second content for mass dissemination. And mass dissemination it is: where Snapchat’s circular video format (only produced by capturing content through Spectacles,) sparked and fizzled due to the limited distribution channel, Giphy enjoys integration with all the major online platforms meaning that whatever’s created with a future Giphy Camera is instantly accessible through iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack, and the rest.

I don’t quite buy Chung’s closing remark that "GIFs are the Legos of visual communications" (all GIFs were not made to co-exist, let’s face it), he’s spot on when he says this: "photos are the nouns of visual language, GIFs are the verbs". It remains to be seen how Giphy hardware can help brands learn the language.

Gracie Page is a creative technologist at Y&R London

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