From Twitter to Instagram, event marketers rely on social channels to engage with consumers before, during and after their activations. And while branded photos were once embraced as the industry’s most shareable social media assets, there’s a new kid in town. The future of live-event photo activations might just be the animated GIF.

With so many brands vying for the attention of young consumers, it’s no wonder animated GIFs (and the subsequent sharing of them on social media) are becoming a favorite tool. After all, Millennials just want to have fun, right? As live events increasingly include animated GIF engagements, we take a look at the next generation of socially shareable assets.

First, some clarification on what an animated GIF really is. Unlike other media tools like Vine, a GIF is not a snippet of video. Instead, it is an image format comprised of multiple frames (translation: photos) that give the impression of motion when displayed in a sequence. The result is the digital version of a flipbook, which can be set up to loop if the user so chooses.

Animated GIFs have been popping up all over the experiential scene as of late, serving as both a fun engagement for consumers and an opportunity to gain substantial social media impressions for brands. It’s no wonder, then, that Lipton employed an animated GIF booth at its Sundance Film Festival activation in January to help highlight its new line of sparkling teas. The 125-year-old brand even added a twist to the engagement, promoting the booth as a selfie station, rather than an opportunity to take group shots.

“GIFs are a great intersection between photo and video. They’re easy to under- stand, eye-catching and fun,” says Gary So, senior director-marketing at Pepsi Lipton. “When we launched Lipton Sparkling at Sundance, the GIF booth was ideal because it brought that same uplifting, novel feeling that our product does. It was a great way to attract people to our space to engage with our brand and product.”

“The great thing about GIFs is that as they become increasingly popular, they are easier to share across all social media platforms.” -Gary So, senior director-marketing at Pepsi Lipton

Lipton is just one of a whole host of brands reaping the benefits of incorporating animated GIF booths into live events. Heineken has incorporated an animated GIF booth into its Heineken House at the US Open. Welch’s offered a GIF booth to promote its brand at the most recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. And Smartwater utilized the engagement in April at its Upupup Lounge. And the list goes on. But brands are not limited to incorporating animated GIFs into events strictly as modern-day photo booths. There’s plenty of room for creativity.

Last year, Showtime Networks, in partnership with Van Wagner Experiential, created a chilling animated GIF experience in New York City and Los Angeles to help promote its latest horror series, “Penny Dreadful.” The network temporarily transformed select city buildings by constructing interactive window displays meant to attract the attention of citygoers as they passed by.

The displays included cinema graphs of “Penny Dreadful’s” main characters in animated GIF format. The characters were programmed to move their eyes when lasers detected a pedestrian walking by. Participants were then prompted to begin recording their own animated GIF, which placed them in a scene from the show, during which a virtual vampire suddenly crept up from behind. Partakers could then enter their information to share the experience socially.

“The great thing about GIFs is that as they become increasingly popular, they are easier to share across all social media platforms,” says So. “We post a good balance of GIFs, photo and pure video across our brands but when the creative asset lends itself well to simple, quick animation, it’s been exciting to see a high level of engagement [with GIFs].”

While animated GIFs are a fun source of engagement, however, brands shouldn’t rely on them to serve as the foundation of an event marketing approach, warns So. Instead, they should function as engaging supplements to a more comprehensive activation experience.

“GIFs should be viewed as a tool that’s strategic to your campaign and messaging, versus a strategy on its own,” says So. “It’s probably helpful to ask yourself what you want to accomplish, and from there determine if using GIFs would be helpful to incorporate.”

Original article by: Kait Shea