Google Targets Emotions With Acquisition of GIF Platform Tenor

Google has long dominated the search space, putting the likes of Yahoo, Excite, Ask Jeeves, Cuil, and others largely out of business. Consequentially it also resulted in overwhelming superiority when it comes to advertising, although it’s being rivaled by Facebook. But for Google to maintain its advantage, it needs to look to other ways people are looking for information and that has led it to set its sights on the power of GIFs, specifically the image provider Tenor, which it acquired on Tuesday.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but with Tenor powering 12 billion monthly requests, it’s easy to see why Google expressed interest. But it’s less about the individual animated GIFs that Tenor provides but the so-called “emotional graph” that the startup wants to monopolize. Its chief executive David McIntosh once told me: “The challenge for sentiment is that people aren’t saying things publicly at all…unlike other platforms, [we] can tap into when people are thinking and feeling emotions.”

GIFs are Everywhere

It has become a language unto its right from children to adults, and brands are becoming hip to using it in their outreach. Google’s acquisition of Tenor gives it a massive network because Tenor is already one of the biggest GIF providers out there, with its hands in many popular social media and chat-based tools. The amount of data that Google can receive from this, especially about someone’s emotional state of mind, could further boost its search and even advertising opportunities.

Speaking of advertising, last year Tenor debuted an ad product and analytics tool that was geared towards brands looking to capitalize on the GIF craze. These weren’t anything that would rival Google Analytics but were meant to educate brands on how they could use GIFs. It was also an in-road for Tenor to start monetizing itself and showing real promise, especially when faced with stiff competition from Giphy.

As I reported at the time, Tenor offered brands a tool called Tenor Insight, which was essentially a keyword research tool. With it, marketing managers could look up what emotions people were expressing, like sharing a lot of GIFs showing surprise, love, anger, nail-biter, etc., and could sort by date, time, or specific event. Then, brands could interject a sponsored GIF in a bid to draw attention to whatever product they were selling.

When you see a happy dance GIF, it immediately tells you the sender’s state of mind — and perhaps what they’re interested in — whereas if you try to analyze their tweet, post, or message you may be limited to an overall positive or negative sentiment. And a keyword doesn’t necessarily reflect a person’s emotional state.

As McIntosh told me, “How do you capture 30 to 50 emotions a day expressed over mobile messaging?” The data that Tenor collects is probably something of interest to Google, especially across the several billion people worldwide that have a mobile device, and the countless others sharing GIFs across the internet.

Around the same time as the launch of Tenor Insights, the startup brought on board Jason Krebs as its chief business officer. Formerly head of sales at Maker Studios, which Disney acquired, Krebs was tasked with outreach to brands. He quipped that it was too soon to tell whether brands would jump “head over heels” to embrace this new paradigm of emotional advertising, but believed that brands have a lot of stories to tell and GIFs could be an opening for that.

What Tenor Could Do For Google

The plethora of data that Google receives from this acquisition is enormous as Tenor is sitting on a treasure trove of emotion that people can express at any time. If I use a GIF from “Despicable Me” in a tweet or chat conversation, Google could pick that up and then display ads or prioritize search results in favor of Disney movies, or maybe other related results, like nearby showtimes for the latest animated movie or Disney store.

What Tenor could receive from Google’s involvement is all the resources from an advertising juggernaut, rapidly accelerating the company’s advertising capabilities and giving brands a scalable and programmatic way to leverage GIFs in their marketing campaigns.

It looks like to keep its extensive network, Google is permitting Tenor to remain a separate brand, not wanting to absorb it into the mothership.

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