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Check Out the 'Living Pictures' That Could Revolutionize the Ad Industry

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much might a cinemagraph – or a "living picture" – be worth?

One tech-driven creative agency is attempting to find out.

Known for its growing collection of Flixel-branded apps, which photographers use to mix a bit of motion into what would otherwise be a still photograph, Flixel Photos has quietly grown into a consultancy for brands and ad agencies – and it's now gunning for a growing share of the $42 billion interactive advertising market, which includes both online and digital real estate. Already, the company has helped create some visually unique campaigns, including a web commercial that showcased a spinning pinwheel and a fluttering dress for Macy's Marilyn Monroe Collection. Another campaign highlighted a new Panasonic camera that appeared to snap a picture of a goldfish swimming in a bowl of water.

The Toronto-based company, which previously employed a business development team in California, recently expanded into New York City and is launching its own hosting and distribution platform for companies interested in advertising with cinemagraphs. To create one, someone must first shoot a short video directly from Flixel Photos' software (or import it) then select an element that should be endlessly repeated in a loop. The technique, which was pioneered a few years ago by Kevin Burg, a visual graphics artist, and Jamie Beck, a photographer, is technically cumbersome and hard to recreate.

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Flixel Photos, however, found ways to streamline the creation process while keeping cinemagraphs better in quality than animated GIFs. Also important? Keeping file sizes small enough so that users can view them without running into playback delays or having to click on an image to activate it. Just 10 days after seeking funds Flixel Photos managed to raise $250,000.

"That was kind of a lucky break," says Philippe LeBlanc, the company's CEO and co-founder. "We had more challenges afterwards."

Indeed, around the same time consumers began flocking to the company's first free app, they also had the option of turning to competing programs such as Microsoft's Cliplets and the Nokia Cinemagraph. But Flixel Photos rolled the dice on a pricier suite of professional versions that featured more powerful tools with support for higher quality resolutions, such as 4K, ultra high definition devices, such as televisions. One of its latest editions – which retails for a steep $99.99 – topped the Mac App Store's photography category in nearly 80 countries, won Apple's prestigious design award and generated $250,000 during its first quarter on sale earlier this year.

Demand for Flixel Photos' cinemagraphs has grown, in part, as more brands search for creative ways to maintain the gaze of viewers in the growing digital ad space. According to one of Flixel's tests, cinemagraphs produced 5.6 times as many click-throughs as online banner ads. Other tests from Flixel have found that people look longer at cinemagraphs than other kinds of images, like still pictures on Instagram, which could help consumers recall a brand’s name or image better than traditional ads – a point that intrigues some in media and technology sectors. 

But others in the advertising world aren't so sure the medium will translate into a significant return on investment, especially considering how much a brand might end up paying for a video shoot to create a series of cinemagraphs. Another challenge is that this technology isn't a new advertising channel: "You haven't opened up a Facebook or Instagram, where you give a new voice to an audience," says Howard Rissin, director of digital consulting at RedWorks, an advertising and creative production company. "If it's not meaningful then it's just another gimmick," says Rissin. "It really comes down to the brand and how adventurous they are."

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Even so, Flixel's teams has raised more than $2.5 million from investors since the company launched in 2011, with some of that money coming from Tyra Banks, who heavily promoted cinemagraphs during an entire season of America's Next Top Model last year. More recent exposure has included the use of moving images from a Travel Alberta campaign both online and in a California airport, some which of highlight stills of mountainous landscapes with soft ripples of water and a rocky dinosaur park with the Northern Lights dancing across a night sky. And even Rissin acknowledges that while certain companies – like financial firms – are unlikely to embrace this technology or use it well, others such as carmakers or those with moving products could churn out "exciting" campaigns.

LeBlanc, of course, needs no convincing: "This could be a game changer for advertisers," he says.