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There’s a Reason You’re Seeing Those Doughnut GIFs

Tenor, the popular GIF search engine, is charging brands six figures for better placement.
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Illustration: Kurt Woerpel for Bloomberg Businessweek

On Valentine’s Day, if you entered “love” into popular GIF search engine Tenor, the top results would have included a doughnut leaning on a coffee cup with the slogan “We’re better together” and a heart-shaped dessert with the phrase “Donuts before dudes.” While neither may represent most people’s idea of amour, they’re top of mind for Dunkin’ Donuts, which paid to have the GIFs created and placed in the hope that viewers would pass them along to friends.

Dunkin’, an early adopter, now has company. AT&T, Sprint, Nestlé, Nissan, KFC, and at least 15 other brands have signed up with Tenor Inc. since it began pitching sponsored GIFs a few months ago. Clients typically pay Tenor, which attracts 300 million people a month, $100,000 to $500,000 to place GIFs they’ve created in results the search engine deems relevant. The fees climb as more users share the sponsored GIFs in messaging apps. “Brands have never been able to get you to send an ad to someone else,” says David McIntosh, Tenor’s chief executive officer. “It’s like cutting out a Wendy’s ad from a newspaper and sending it to a friend. That’s essentially what people are doing.”