I just received a Nintendo promotional email with a countdown timer in it.

I went down the rabbithole of "how does this even work", and the answer is interesting, and a little bit depressing.

Turns out, it is an animated GIF. It seems they autogenerate the GIF with the correct countdown time when you open the email (and thus hit the img src URL in the email HTML).

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But, an animated GIF has only so many frames. So really the timer only runs down for about a minute or so. Which means that if you stare at the timer for longer than that, you will see it loop back up and start counting down again.

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Which is to say: Email marketers are exploiting the fact that we only glance at any given email for a few seconds to pull off what looks like a working countdown timer, but isn't.

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For the very curious, here is the URL from the email. Clicking on this will generate you a new countdown timer, if you watch it for a minute, you'll see it loop. If you reload, you'll get an updated timer:

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@anaulin there are so many things email marketers would do differently if email clients didn’t have the rendering the issues that they do. If they could give you a real live countdown timer with your name on it in your favorite color that (which you definitely didn’t tell them) they would.

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