Flash’s days are numbered. And that’s probably a good thing for digital advertisers.
Calls for Flash’s head on a platter hit a fevered pace this past week. The Adobe software has been a mainstay for rich web ads and extended website functionality since the late 90s. There was even a time when almost every company in the rich media space owed much of its offering to Flash, then a Macromedia product. These days, among propellerheads, Flash is just as famous for its gaping security holes as it is for animation and streaming.
Those security holes proved to be too much for Mozilla, which changed the latest release of its browsers to block Flash by default. They’ve taken similar actions when confronted with security issues in the past, like when Java became a hacker’s playground a couple years ago. There’s nothing new here.
For us, the Death of Flash can’t come soon enough. It’s not that the plugin wasn’t valuable in its time, but much of what Flash brought to the table can be accomplished outside of proprietary plugins these days. In fact, adservers like DoubleClick have been not-so-subtly pushing advertisers to convert their Flash ads to HTML5, often converting them on the fly.
But why? Security is a good enough reason, particularly when Flash ads can be altered to serve malware. But we can’t help but think some of these underlying reasons also played a role – and they’re good for digital marketers over the long haul:
Keeps us Mobile-Minded
Last fall, we learned (from Adobe, mind you) that Apple is responsible for over half of smartphone web traffic, which is a disproportionate share of traffic when you consider Apple’s smartphone market share of 20 percent. Apple is also responsible for 80 percent of tablet web traffic. When you consider that iOS doesn’t support Flash, that’s a large chunk of mobile traffic we’re missing when we insist on sticking with Flash for ad development.
HTML5 and its related technologies have no such problems rendering content on Apple devices. So moving off of Flash will help us get past this notion that whatever worked for the web will also be good for mobile.
Better for SEO
At one point, Flash was basically invisible to search engines. While much was made of Adobe helping Google and Microsoft figure out how to index Flash, many SEO experts saw this as ineffective or ‘too little, too late.’ HTML5 and its supporting tech were built to be parsable by older browsers, and thus they don’t throw up major obstacles to reading/indexing by bots.
While many companies providing SEO services ask their marketing clients to think about SEO early in the web development process, SEO can still be somewhat of an afterthought when a marketing VP is looking to hit an internal deadline with a new website. In such cases, it helps to avoid building major site functionality in Flash that is too easily ignored by the likes of Google.
Cuts Back on Tracking Shadiness
It is one of the industry’s worst-kept secrets that persistent cookies in Flash have been used to augment the capabilities of ad networks and third-party data companies. With so many web users blocking or regularly clearing cookies, revenue streams of such companies are threatened. Just a few years ago, several companies in the space settled class action suits after being accused of abusing Flash cookies.
Regardless of the extent to which this continues today, it will do our industry good to kill off Flash and the sketchiness that comes with the persistent tracking it can enable.
All in all, sunsetting Flash would produce some significant benefits for the digital marketing industry, other than closing some security holes. And it’s consistent with the Internet’s collaborative nature to embrace open, rather than proprietary, technologies. I say it’s been a long time coming.
Chris Tuleya is Vice President, Direct Response, at Underscore Marketing, a firm that creates and manages integrated marketing programs for health and healthy brands.