Together We Make GIFs: Why the Madden GIFerator Is Viral Content Marketing at Its Best

How can a company penetrate the Internet’s imposing fortress of inside jokes, unsaid rules, and often virile criticism to produce an effective, popular, and uncontroversial viral marketing campaign? The answer to that question lies at the heart of the “Best Meme of 2014”: The Madden GIFerator.

That’s right: The greatest meme of 2014, according to The Daily Dot, is a marketing campaign.

The Madden GIFerator is a GIF tool EA Sports produced to promote Madden NFL 15, the latest edition of their popular football video game franchise. According to the project’s website, the GIFerator was created so gamers could create customizable GIFs to “hurl in the face of their rivals.”

The process of making a Madden GIF is incredibly simple: Pick a team, player, and background, finish it off with trash talk up to 40 characters, and boom, you’re ready to add some firepower to your social shares.


How has this simple tool succeeded when other crowdsourced viral campaigns have so often spectacularly failed?

Let’s take a look at what sets the Madden GIFerator apart.

Awareness of what users value most

Since the meme began its meteoric rise a few years ago, two formats have consistently been part of digital culture: the GIF and the image macroyour standard witty captioned image, like the classic “McKayla is not impressed” meme that took the Olympics by storm in 2012.

The Madden GIFerator is a combination of both, pairing the vibrancy and bite-sized length of the GIF with the customization and wordplay of the image macro.

EA was smart enough to simplify the GIF process down to its barest bones. For many users, creating a GIF would be too intimidating and time-consuming. Instead, users are given enough choice to experiment—four to six players for each team and 13 backgrounds—but not too much for the experience to overwhelm. The streamlined format also allows for patterns and easy parody, a key reason memes go viral.

Overall, the tool appeals to our desire for creation. This is an important lesson: Create something familiar to your target audience and cater to shorter attention spans by making interaction a simple process.

Troll proofing

The uncontrollable nature of the Internet is one of its core characteristics: It’s the Wild West of the information age. With this in mind, EA Sports was careful to limit what could and couldn’t be done with the Madden GIFerator.

The short history of attempted crowdsourced marketing campaigns is one of purposeful misuse and abuse, and much of this has to do with the lack of structure put in place at the beginning of a campaign. Remember #myNYPD? Yikes.

The fact that the GIFerator is its own platform, created and controlled by EA Sports, is one of the main ways that trolls were kept at bay. Had EA Sports instead asked for GIFs in a Twitter campaign, like the NYPD or McDonald’s examples given above, this campaign would almost have certainly ended in a similarly disastrous way given the recent controversy surrounding the NFL.

By also limiting the user to a catered set of images and disallowing almost every word you could possibly think of as offensive (a big red all-caps “ILLEGAL USE OF WORDS” popped up for every curse I could think of), the potential for exploitation was removed as much as it could be.

Flexibility and real-time moderation

Even though the GIFerator’s original purpose was for trash talking, it has become an outlet for humorous GIFs that have nothing to do with football.

This flexibility is perhaps the most vital and unorthodox takeaway to be gained from the GIFerator. Whether EA Sports was aware that the GIFerator would inevitably be used for purposes other than trash talking is impossible to say, but they were more than prepared for its expansion into memehood. Every GIF contains a #maddenGIFERATOR watermark, assuring that, even if the text has to do with everything but football, the reader knows how to find the tool and what it is promoting.

This harmless misuse in the end is what has made it popular on Internet community sites, and, most importantly, the humor isn’t coming at the expense of EA Sports, the Madden franchise, or the NFL.

This is particularly impressive considering the NFL has been heavily criticized in the past few weeks for controversially handling player discipline related to sensitive legal issues. When Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges, EA Sports was faster to respond to the controversy than his own team, removing him from the GIFerator before the Vikings flip-flopped and suspended him indefinitely. This decisive and flexible moderation earned positive press and stopped any potential controversy before it could begin.

With these three lessons in mind, it is easy to see why the GIFerator has succeeded. Its simplicity and accessibility assured the user won’t leave the website out of boredom or confusion, and firm but flexible moderation stopped any potential abuse before it could even begin.

With the potential rewards of viral marketing so high, it isn’t difficult to foresee many companies foraying into the depths of Internet culture to GIF and meme their way to the top of trending list on sites like Reddit and Tumblr. The GIFerator has finally provided some guidance in how to navigate this perilous digital jungle.

Image by EA Sports

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