GIFs Will Only Get Bigger -- and Other Takeaways from Brooklyn's Northside Festival

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The future of advertising is in GIFs. Or stronger brand narratives. Or constant, intelligent targeting.

It depends who you asked at this year's Northside Festival, a music and innovation event in Brooklyn that gathered panelists on the subjects of journalism, digital media, tech and advertising.

Here are three takeaways:

"Build a brand, not a product company"
When the co-founders of Away Travel, a high-end luggage brand, realized their first bag couldn't be mass-produced before the 2015 holiday guides, they decided to publish a book.

"We didn't want to do crowdfunding because we really wanted to build a brand and not a product company," said Jen Rubio, who founded the company with Stephanie Korey in 2015. "The question was: How can we get people talking about Away?"

To accomplish that, they interviewed over 40 influential industry leaders, creating "The Places We Return To," a coffee table book about all things travel. It came with a $225 gift card for a yet-to-be released piece of luggage, and by Christmas, Away Travel was featured in New York Magazine, Vice, Business Insider and Yahoo News.

"That Christmas we were in pretty much every top gift guide you could think of," Rubio said. "We were a brand talking about travel in a way people hadn't experienced before."

Of course, great products have to accompany a strong brand. But a key component is finding the brand's narrative -- which apparently can happen before the first product ever ships.

There's a GIF for that
GIFs on the train, GIFs on your phone, GIFs on the billboards, GIFs to tell the weather, GIFs to share the news. Giphy's head of business development, David Rosenberg, believes his company's GIFs (trade secret: they're actually .mp4's) will soon be everywhere -- from physical spaces to smartphone interfaces.

"GIFs have a way of evoking emotion," Rosenberg said Wednesday. "But that's the tip of the iceberg."

Short narratives, Rosenberg argues, can be told in everyday life through GIFs. A loop of rain can quickly portray the day's weather, for example.

Brands are catching on. Last fall, NBC worked with Giphy to advertise "Superstore" in the World Trade Center transportation hub, a football-field-long marble corridor, with 19 LED screens. The screens showed characters moving in endless loops.

"It forced us to think about physical space," Rosenberg said.

The key to Facebook ads: Hit refresh
Facebook's targeting capabilities make finding an audience easy, but it's important to update ads and campaigns every three to four weeks, said Lynne Jansons and Marlena Sarunac.

The marketing consultants stressed the need for captivating copy, but on shorter timelines than with traditional agency campaigns.

"You've got to keep it changing so it doesn't get stale," Jansons said.

With the news that Google will soon block "annoying" ads on its Chrome browser, the marketing opportunities on social media, especially Facebook, could be more valuable. Using Facebook's audience insights tool will be a powerful way to connect to specific target audiences.

But ads get old. And boring. Jansons said many companies use the "champion-challenger" mentality: If one Facebook campaign delivers strong results, present ads that challenge for the top spot.

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