Jif's new social campaign wants to settle the debate over the pronunciation of GIFs—one that has lasted as long as looping video clips have existed and, some say, has been long-settled.
J.M. Smucker Company’s peanut butter brand asserts that “GIF”— short for graphics interchange format—is pronounced with a hard G, as in "graphic." The tongue-in-cheek campaign goes on to assert that the soft G, as in Jif, is the exclusive domain of the peanut butter brand.
"If you've ever called a GIF a Jif, we forgive you," J.M. Smucker said in a press release. Jif is teaming with GIPHY and Publicis' New York-based PSOne on the campaign, which is tied to National Peanut Butter Lover's Day on March 1.
The brand is sharing a video produced out of PSOne with FunnyorDie across social platforms. It features Gary Goodman, a fictional professor of linguistics who pronounces his name “Jary Joodman,” who provocatively lectures that “GIF” and “Jif” are pronounced the same. “Those of you jumping on this hard-G bandwagon, don’t be so gullible, they’re just trying to sell you jallons of peanut butter,” he says.
As part of the campaign, Jif released a limited-edition 40-ounce jar labeled “Gif” on Amazon for $9.99. The jar has Giphy’s logo on it as well as the hashtag #JifvsGif. By late Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,000 available jars were sold out, the brand said.
The brand also partnered with Giphy to create a series of branded GIFs at https://giphy.com/jif and calls on people to share their preference with the hashtag #JifvsGif.
J.M. Smucker Company consolidated its creative with Publicis in 2018, and the agency has been rebooting several of Smucker’s brands. In its November earnings report, Smucker's reported that lower prices for its peanut butter and coffee brands were hurting its bottom line.
“With the ever-increasing popularity of GIFs that we all use daily, we felt now was the perfect time to clear up something that has been a universal point of confusion and debate for years,” Christine Hoffman, consumer engagement group lead at Jif, said in a statement.
The graphics interchange format was introduced in 1987 by the Internet service provider CompuServe. As smartphones became popular and social media began to take off, GIFs did the same. In 2013, The New York Times documented the rise of the popular looping video clips, GIF was voted the “word of the year” by Oxford American Dictionaries for 2012 and received a lot of press in 2017 for turning 30 and still dominating social feeds.
It could be argued that the opportune moment for Jif’s campaign would have been in 2012 or 2013, when people on social media began to debate about how to pronounce GIF, with one Twitter user calling it “The Great Schism of the 21st Century.” It might have also done well when the conversation picked up again after Steve Wilhite, inventor of the GIF, announced in an acceptance speech at the Webby Awards in 2013 that the format is pronounced “jif.” At the time, that comment produced 17,000 tweets and 50 news articles, according to The New York Times in an article titled: “Battle over ‘GIF’ pronunciation erupts,” which references the peanut butter brand as an example of “jif.”
The Webby Awards was quick to call out Jif on Tuesday, sharing a video of the moment Wilhite declared it is pronounced “jif” and saying: “We settled this years ago.”
Hoffman considers the debate ongoing. “We weren’t hoping to reignite the debate; we want to end it once and for all, and reclaim the pronunciation of Jif for ourselves,” said Hoffman in an emailed statement. “We also had a nutty feeling that peanut butter lovers would help spread the word far and wide that there really is only one.”
The campaign seems to be reigniting the conversation anyway. “The Tonight Show” shared a poll on Twitter and helped spur more deliberation. The majority of people, however, are voting for “GIF” with a hard-G.