It is the ultimate mind-bender. I’m looking at a giant jar of JIF peanut butter, with its iconic red, blue, and green stripes. But it says GIF.
I feel like I’ve been swallowed alive by an internet meme, but this is a very real jar of peanut butter you can buy on Amazon starting March 1st, for $10 while limited supplies last. Oh, and that GIF it’s supposed to be pronounced with the hard G. It says so right on the label. (Meanwhile, the most nasal of geeks will note that the the .gif file extension is supposed to be pronounced jiff. Not because that makes any sense—the abbreviation stands for “graphics interface format” after all—but because the format’s creator, Steve Wilhite, says so.)
What the heck is going on? Giphy, the corporate memelord, has teamed up with JIF, the American peanut butter, in a cross-branded stunt sure to ruffle internet feathers, but also, distinguish an age-old misconception around the Giphy brand.
“You know, I think the only question people ask us is, do you pronounce it ‘gif’ or ‘jif,’ and that debate has been going on 30 years now!” says Alex Chung, cofounder and CEO of Giphy. “Even after seven years of working on Giphy people think it’s [pronounced] ‘Jiffy.'”
Chung recounts when Wilhite actually wrote him, and explained Giphy was “butchering the whole thing.” Chung countered that the gif, with the hard g, is something different than what Wilhite had invented. Those early construction signs of the internet had evolved through mass cultural re-appropriation. They became mini movies that spread across the internet, vital to the way we communicate. And the people sharing these files called them gifs with the hard “g.”
“We got to an agreement where he was like, ‘you can totally use gif,’ Chung laughs, who notes the only people who still say “jif” are either from San Francisco or “really old.”
Even still, Chung recounts an internal joke at Giphy for many years that they needed to partner up with JIF to explain the company is not pronounced like the peanut butter. Chung knew no one at JIF to pitch the idea to, until more recently, a contact put him into contact with Mark Smucker, the president of the J.M. Smucker Company, which owns JIF. Smucker immediately loved the idea, and the two companies began working on the jar design together. Smucker, naturally, handled all peanut butter production.
On one side, it reads, “JIF Creamy Peanut Butter”—noting a soft g pronunciation. On the other side, it reads, “GIF Animated Looping Images”—noting a hard g pronunciation. A limited batch of thousands of jars will go on sale, and undoubtedly, sell out to be just the sort of pop culture ephemera that goes perfect on a corporate desk shelf.
Of course, given that it’s Giphy behind this initiative, expect to see a massive digital campaign of animated gifs, too. Given that internet animators have been making the JIF peanut butter vs. GIF file joke for years, Giphy has set up what will be an inevitably viral sensation by throwing gasoline on the fire. Or is it pronounced “jasoline”?