Blog: Are you ready for the death of Flash?

Eyereturn Marketing's Ian Hewetson says that, despite advance notice, many advertisers and agencies are scrambling to find alternatives for animated online ads.

By Ian Hewetson

A big change is coming to digital advertising. After years of domination, Adobe Flash is finally going the way of the dodo. But despite the fact that this change has been coming for a long time, a lot of advertisers have been caught flat-footed.

The final nail is almost in the coffin – as of September, the Chrome browser will no longer auto-play Flash ads. This means that any Flash ad viewed on Chrome will have a YouTube-style “play” button layered on top. This doesn’t just apply to video – even if the ad is just a simple animation, it’s not going to play until you click that button.

And without that attention-grabbing autoplay animation as the user loads a page, there is no reason for any advertiser to be producing or delivering Flash ads any more. Unless you’re targeting Flash developers to advertise your school for HTML5 design.

For those of you not in the trenches of digital media, there are ton of other reasons why Flash had to go. It required constant updates, wasn’t widely supported on mobile, was a notorious power hog and had been the target of hackers who used it as a conduit for delivering malware.

But despite all of these downsides, Flash hung on for so long because it was an authoring tool, it was efficient, flexible and boasted a massive following in the advertising and web design industries. There are a ton of designers who’ve made their careers in Flash, and a ton of websites out there that are still Flash-based.

So what’s actually happening on the ground? In our third-party ad-serving business, we are the conduit between advertiser/agency and website. Agencies send us ads and media plans, we troubleshoot, fix if necessary, upload the ad files to our servers and send the ads to the sites. Delivering hundreds of campaigns for a huge range of clients every week gives us some great perspective.

Anecdotally speaking, even though everyone’s been aware that this day would come, we’re seeing a lot of last-second scrambling. Just two months ago, 80% of ads that Eyereturn was receiving from clients were still built in Flash, with the remaining 20% being a mixture of flat JPEGS and HTML5.

As of last week, that split was reversed. So while we’re still seeing some Flash, the word is definitely getting out there.  If the trend continues, Flash will be down to a trickle in a couple of weeks.

But this doesn’t mean the transition is seamless.  We’re getting a lot of files that have been developed in Flash, thrown into a Flash-to-HTML5 converter and delivered with the expectation that they’ll work out of the box. Even though these converters do a decent job with simple ads, we’re seeing a lot of issues if the ads are even slightly complex.

And while one of the key promises of HTML5 is that it’s more computationally efficient than Flash, if it’s not developed correctly, the opposite is often true for both weight on the processor and file size. The result of this is that poorly coded or converted HTML5 can result in huge files and processor slowdowns.

We’re also seeing a lot of advertisers move away from any animation or interactivity entirely as a short-term solution. And while this strategy does the trick for now, static ads just don’t have the same response rate, which is going to hurt those advertisers in the long term if they don’t evolve.

The roots of these issues are at the creative development level. HTML5 is technically capable of doing almost anything Flash can do – but that doesn’t mean that an expert Flash designer will be able to translate their skills into HTML5 overnight. And while the converter software works, it does have limits. We’re already seeing an avalanche of production requests and we expect that to continue while agencies ramp up their creative production teams.

But make no mistake about it – HTML5 is finally here to stay. This transition phase will be short, and after the dust settles, the advantage will go to those agencies and advertisers who invest the time and effort to actually master this new format, or partner with those who already do.

Ian Hewetson is VP of client services at Eyereturn Marketing.