A major change in the tech world will see digital ads displayed in a different format this cycle and beyond. It’s not quite Y2K all over again, but the shift from Adobe Flash to HTML5 will affect how voters see ads in mobile and on different desktop browsers. Moreover, it will necessitate digital consultants adapt to the new environment.
For instance, Google Chrome is beginning to pause Adobe Flash ads as a default setting, the company said again late last month. That follows Amazon, which has banned Flash from its domains.
Facebook, meanwhile, would like to see Flash killed and Apple hasn’t supported it in Safari or on its iPhone or iPad for some time. Still, some major brands ranging from American Express to PayPal to Pepsi were until recently still running Flash ads. Campaigns be warned.
“If you’re pushing Flash, many of your ads aren’t going to be seen. What’s going to be seen is the initial image and a Flash button,” said Chris Nolan, founder of Spot-On, a targeted online ad placement and buying services. “You need to be worried about whether your creative is actually running.”
The main complaint against Flash, which is used mainly in banner and video ads, is that it can add to a website’s load time and be used to host malware. Still, it’s been a technology employed for years from Madison Avenue to D.C. to San Francisco.
“For every ad you run online, there are two elements. One is the illustration and the other part is computer code that makes the [device] produce the ad,” said Nolan. “If you’re a consultant and you are used to building Flash banners, and they look good, and you’re used to making one phone call to play your ad, you need to rethink how you’re going about this.
HTML5 goes to all web browsers, added Nolan. And GIFs work on all formats, too. The conversation now is about the tech specifications of the ad and “it’s driving creative shops in the ad world wacky.”
As Flash has waned in popularity, advertisers have begun shifting to HTML5. In fact, Josh Koster, managing partner at the digital firm Chong + Koster, said it’s been a long time coming.
“Digital shops have been preparing for it and are built to adapt to this kind of change in the environment,” he said. “Just another day in digital ads.”
Scott Cunningham, SVP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and GM of the IAB Tech Lab, agreed. ”The migration has been natural in large part because consumers are consuming content on multiple devices and many of those do not support Flash but do support HTML5,” he said.
But the coming months could see a shaky transition, warned Cunningham.
“There’s sometimes a lack of skill in the market, but overtime we find that the proliferation of technology ends up developing different skills,” said Cunningham, whose IAB recently updated its guidelines on display creative. “In the HTML5 world, there’s going to be much different creative opportunities, some of which we may not have envisioned yet. It opens the door for different opportunities.”
It could also lead to a cost savings for advertisers, he added. “It can be very expensive for a creative shop to create advertisements for multiple screens using different tech; there’s a lot of labor involved. Doing everything in HTML5, we should start to see less cost constraints.”
While costs drop, digital shops who created animated spots could have trouble adapting.
“This comes as a little bit of a speed bump for those guys,” said Nolan, whose firm no longer accepts Flash ads. “Conversations are happening, but it’s going take a little bit of time as creative people push the envelope and computer people say ‘no.’”