West Virginia native, 'GIF queen' sees future in marketing

By JENNIFER GARDNER, Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Charleston native Julie Winegard can tell a story in three seconds, without words or audio.
She simply creates a sequence of illustrations that, when played consecutively, reference a moment in time.
The sequence is known as a GIF, which stands for “graphics interchange format,” and Winegard is known as the “unofficial GIF queen.”
In a way, a GIF is like a flip book. However, GIFs are commonly used on social media and in text messaging conversations. Many are humorous and derive from popular TV shows or cartoons.
However, Winegard’s pieces tend to turn the page on controversy, with a fresh take on political conversations.
Her most popular GIF to date was her take on the moment President Barack Obama said “Obama out” and purposely dropped his mic at the end of his final White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech. The moment and GIF became known as the “Obama mic drop.”
“Last year was definitely a challenging time in America regarding politics, and I think that the Obama mic drop was kind of a symbol to people that things would be alright,” she said. “I think people really admired Obama and (the GIF) was kind of a way to pay tribute to him.”
Her GIF became iconic. It was named most popular of 2016 by GIPHY based on site traffic and social media shares.
If you regularly traffic social media, it’s likely you’ve come across one of Winegard’s GIFs. She has captured some of the most important cultural moments in recent years through her animated clips.
“It’s definitely about what’s more culturally relative at the moment — what’s in the news, what’s pop-culturally trending,” Winegard said. “I’ve got to be very quick to respond because the internet moves so fast. So, I try to pick content that can last a while and be relevant for a lot of time but also has some kind of meaning and is important in some way.”
GIFs have been around for more than 20 years, according to Winegard. However, they’ve experienced a renaissance in recent years. Many companies are even using them for advertising and marketing purposes.
“Many of us use GIFs in text, Facebook and Tinder, but I think companies are just kind of slipping them in as just content that doesn’t seem like advertising,” she said. “It just seems like fun, interesting content that you would see anywhere else.”
Because GIFs automatically play and do not require audio, they easily grab the attention of their viewer. They can be more interesting than a still photo and have the ability to relay more information.
“I really think GIFs are the future of advertising and marketing,” she said. “It’s six seconds or less, and it gets to the point and people have to see it.”
GIFs can reference a popular show, but Winegard’s GIF style is more illustration-based. She said this style developed naturally.
“I think illustrations might tell more of a story than photos,” Winegard said. “People are just drawn to them more; they’re more interesting.”
She uses Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and After Effects to create each animated clip.
“I reference some from source material, and I try to change it to make it my own and add details to make it more interesting or something that wouldn’t exist in real life,” she said. “It’s kind of magical that you get to do that when creating art.”
Winegard found her love of art at West Virginia University. She switched her major from pre-med to graphic design during her sophomore year and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree. She is currently studying strategic communication at Columbia University, a program she hopes will help further her GIF career.
“What I’m learning from school, I’m going to be able to put into my GIF business and create more innovative GIFs with more thought behind them and intention and purpose,” she said.
However, Winegard has already made a name for herself among businesses looking for a more creative approach to their social media strategy.
She’s created GIFs for various companies, including NBC News, New York Fashion Week, the Wall Street Journal and Shondaland — the media company behind “Grey’s Anatomy,” ”Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
For Little Caesars, she created a clip of a pizza appearing and then disappearing after a “magic trick.”
Still, some of her GIFs are created out of pure entertainment.
For example, one of her GIFs portrays the state outline of West Virginia turning into a unicorn. She credits her roommate, a native of Texas, for the inspiration.
“She always thought the outline of the state looked like a unicorn,” Winegard laughed.
In a way, West Virginia is Winegard’s unicorn. Though she has moved, she said her home state is still very special to her.
“I’m so proud to be from West Virginia,” she said. “In high school, my parents and all of my teachers always told me to go after my dreams, and I think that has really kept me going.”
When the George Washington High School graduate returns home, she said it can be difficult to explain her job to others, even her parents.
“I don’t think it was until recently that they’ve stopped calling it a ‘giphy’ or a ‘jif,’ “ she laughed.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.