Why embedding a video in email is better than adding a GIF

GIFS have become an effective and popular means of adding animation to emails, but are they the best format when delivering the best user experience is the objective?
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Video Email vs Animated Gifs

Images are a highly effective medium for storytelling within emails, and in recent years the introduction of simple animations, in the form of animated GIFS have enabled marketers to add movement to these images to evolve how they communicate with their audiences.

Animated GIFs have proved effective at driving incremental response whilst not compromising email campaigns, as they can be viewed by 95% of recipients with Outlook being the problem child.

Having established that moving images within email drives incremental response and audience engagement the challenge now shifts to ensuring that the most appropriate video format is delivered to each individual recipient, to produce the best user experience for each recipient.



Establishing the best video format for email

To understand which video format provides the best user experience within email Playable analysed the data from over 1 million emails sent in September 2017, where a video was embedded within the email.

For each video email Playable compiled the video into many different versions, comprising hundreds of files, the Playable servers then selected the best version of the video for each recipient, relative to a number of key data sources, including device type, email client, screen resolution and network conditions.

Based on Playable data from September 2017, Animated GIF is the best choice for just 27% of email recipients.

Delivering the best video media format for each recipient

The analysis indicated that 5 video media formats were used to deliver the highest quality video email experience to 97% of the email audience.

The 5 video formats are previewed below along with insights on Playables approach to selecting the best video format for each recipient.

The best video formats for email

The analysis reveals that 6 video media formats were used to deliver the best video email experience to 98% of the email audience. The media formats are listed here along with insights on Playable’s approach to selecting the best video format for each recipient.

Animated PNG

Best for 38% of email recipients

Portable Network Graphics was invented to replace GIF, in order to avoid patent licensing fees. It supports a broader range of colors and better compression than GIF in most cases. Animated PNG is only supported on some devices and email clients, including Apple Mail on iPhone, the most popular email client of them all.

Animated GIF

Best for 27% of email recipients

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) remains a solid fallback experience as long as the filesize is contained by using the right compression algorithms. A GIF is limited to just 256 unique colors which explains their grainy appearance if the color palette is not fully optimized. GIF animations are not supported on Microsoft Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013 which display only the first frame.

MP4 (H.264) Video

Best for 14% of email recipients

MP4 is strictly a container format from the Motion Picture Expert Group, and H.264 is the most common video format contained within. MP4 (H.264) provides great video quality at substantially lower bit rates than the other formats described here. However, not many email clients support autoplay of MP4 video – which is essential for high engagement. Playable delivers videos in MP4 (H.264) format only when autoplay is supported.

Animated WebP

Best for 13% of email recipients

WebP is an image format developed by Google, employing both lossy and lossless compression. Sensible lossy compression can result in smaller files compared to GIF, however WebP can be susceptible to ghosting artifacts in some cases. Playable delivers video in animated WebP format to some Android devices and webmail clients viewed on certain browsers.


Best for 5% of email recipients

From the Joint Photographic Experts Group and perfect for delivering to email recipients using desktop Windows Microsoft Outlook 2007 – 2016, which doesn’t support any of the above video formats. These days most Outlook users also check their email on the mobile Outlook apps, which do support various typesof video, so the average % of an email audience that doesn’t enjoy video email is actually between 2 and 3%. Playable delivers JPG images to those Outlook versions that require it, allowing customers to choose any frame from the video (not just the first frame) and add a playhead watermark.

HLS Video

The HLS video format was created by Apple. Playable uses HLS to deliver live video streams into email campaigns – yes, that’s possible! – and we also use HLS for delivering high quality video with sound, for customers wanting to deliver an entire marketing campaign within the inbox rather than send clicks to a website. HLS is great because the video can be split into small segments, and it’s possible to vary the bitrate of the segments to adapt to varying network conditions. Again, HLS is supported only by some devices and email apps.

Future trends

Here at Playable we are predicting an increase in the use of HLS, and the growth of some newer media formats such as HEIF and HEVC (H.265), and the continued decline of GIF. As an aside, Google would be able to significantly reduce the usage of GIF for video email, and promote its own WebP format instead, if only its Gmail Image Proxy supported media formats other than GIF.


Sending the same animated GIF in an email campaign to all list members is a blunt approach that can be improved upon. There is a better choice for 73% of your audience, that results in a higher quality video email experience, higher engagement and ultimately more conversions.

Playable enables email marketers to embed video in their email campaigns and send via their preferred email service provider, check out how it works.


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