Recently came some news that will be welcome news to all but creators of banner advertisements: Google Chrome will not run Flash ads by default starting in September 2015, while Amazon has removed Flash ads from its supported formats, as reported in The Guardian. I think we can all see that major ad exchanges will slowly follow suit, adding HTML5 ad support and dropping Flash ad support.
Already in August, DoubleClick (read: Google) has made HTML5 ads the default choice when both HTML5 and Flash alternates are created for a particular ad unit. At the same time disabling Flash ad placements entirely for Chrome users due to Chrome’s ‘intelligent pausing’ feature announced back in June. And Ad Age has been calling for agencies to move to HTML5 ads in order to keep up with the rest of web development trends.
Personally, I’ve had Flash disabled by default for years, so even as a creator of Flash ads, I am quite happy that this should-never-have-been technology is headed for the bin.
So here’s the thing: In June, as cited above, fully 84% of banner ads were Flash. Holy bleep, people! I get that clients love Flash ads just as much as they love animated flourishes in their TV ads, but the idea that digital media managers haven’t been using the static-alternate option available at almost any publisher boggles the mind. Digital media pros, please tell me this isn’t true, and your numbers say this statistic is wrong!
I’ve long provided my clients with a monthly snapshot of banner ad unit performance, aggregated by creative variant across all publishers and placements. While a very few audience segments have consistently preferred Flash ads by clicking and converting more often from them. My experience has as a rule been that Flash ads and static ads change in effectiveness quite often when compared to each other, with Flash ads dominating one month and nearly disappearing the next. I’ve always viewed this as part of the same natural fluctuations wherein unpredictable market dynamics demand that advertisers have complete coverage of the big-three ad sizes (leaderboard, wide skyscraper, and medium rectangle), with Flash, animated and static options for each, and at least one split testing variant of messaging and/or visuals. Is this not what the rest of you are doing? Again, the mind boggles.
As Ad Age drives home in the above-linked article, HTML5 ads are the way of now and the foreseeable future, covering both desktop and mobile placements. However, I am concerned that what we’ll see is a simple exchange of one vice for another, with no noticeable improvement in the coverage and intelligent placement fronts.
If, as an industry, we’re not using all the tools available at our disposal to provide our clients with the best possible ads and placements as determined by the unique data derived from their placements targeting their audience, we are certain to lose advertising dollars to whatever whizbang new advertising trend shows up next. Digital ad campaigns don’t just run themselves, you know! They require careful curation all along the way, lest the wonderful data that campaigns can return be squandered and clients remain in the dark ages of impression reporting.
I don’t want to name any names, but I suspect that the majority of agencies out there today don’t even know that HTML5 ads are available now. Moreover, much less have the capacity and capability to build them properly, or advise clients on their proper and improper uses.
Digital agencies, I think this is a huge opportunity to step up and show how digital-native creative execution can make an ad campaign translate effectively from the original assets, rather than allowing traditional creative to continue dictating the entire digital ad unit as they have before. Seize it! (Sidebar: There is a nifty HTML5 banner tool from Google called the Google Web Designer available, so you have no excuse!)
Can we stop talking about technology and start doing good marketing now? As you can tell from many of my blog posts, I am a relentless proponent of data-driven marketing and advertising. I think this industry suffers from an obsession with shiny new things that don't serve every client’s interest well, or even serve the interest of most clients. I’d challenge all advertisers, agencies and clients alike, to push past the particular tactics and technologies, to demand that advertising be measurable, flexible and repeatable.
Some years hence, there will be articles decrying the evils of HTML5, its slowness, bloat, and insecurity. There will be premature eulogies, there will be much posturing to separate the old from the next. However, I think the agencies that even survive till that day will be the ones that put HTML5 banner ads in their toolbox alongside every other technique and tactic available, knowing when to apply which one, along with its particular strengths, weaknesses, and best practices. They’ll be the ones that can help their clients cut through the noise and deliver real results time and again, using the numbers to tell the stories of how companies can responsibly communicate with their best customers.
So let this be my eulogy: Flash has nearly expired, HTML5 will yet pass away, and only the data remains. What better way to conclude, than returning whence we came?
Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable; --
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it; --they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
Director of Magic
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