In June 2015, Chrome introduced an update that will “intelligently pause” Flash animations, which means that starting in September, all Flash-based ads will appear as a static image with a greyed-out overlay and a play icon. Immediately following this announcement, Firefox temporarily blocked all versions of Flash by default after the discovery of multiple security vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player. Amazon piled on, announcing they would cease running Flash-based ads on Amazon.com starting on September 1.
Though the writing has been on the wall for quite some time now, the sudden demise of Flash has caught advertisers and agencies off guard and scrambling to migrate their display ads to HTML5. The shift to HTML5 is now not only inevitable but also imperative. Media performance will likely suffer if static images are served instead of the animated or richer version that was originally designed.
If you are an advertiser and have yet to develop a plan for September and beyond, keep in mind the key steps to a successful transition to HTML5 — before Chrome, which holds 40 percent of the world’s browser share, starts putting your Flash campaigns on pause.
Audit all existing media
First and foremost, ask your creative or media agency to conduct a review of all existing executions. Get a good understanding of the current number of Flash creatives currently in flight, and how many dollars in media spend will be backing Flash creatives.
Equally important is investigating the desktop and mobile default rates, which is the rate of a static image being served in place of the intended dynamic animated ad. Assessing these numbers will help you understand the full impact, establish a baseline, and determine the urgency of moving executions to HTML5.
In analyzing this data, prioritize which creatives should be migrated on a campaign by campaign basis, as production time and costs can potentially increase due to the higher level of skills required for HTML5. You may want to convert the best performing executions first, or the ones serving the largest number of impressions. Use this as an opportunity to evaluate any stale, under-performing creatives and determine if the existing Flash-based ads should be converted to HTML5, or if they could use fresh content and messaging updates.
Inquire about creative specifications
Unfortunately, Flash and HTML5 are not a one-to-one when it comes to creative and technical requirements.
Without the Flash player that maintained low file weights, creatives built in HTML5 can no longer as easily uphold the traditional 40K spec. Complex animations and custom fonts that were acceptable in Flash now require larger file sizes in HTML5. The upside is that large file weights can be mitigated with ad tags, which will automatically ensure compliance with initial load, while politely loading the rest in the background.
To calibrate your expectations, animation quality and consistency may be lower than with Flash today. Because HTML5 is a public standard and not a proprietary language, it can be rendered differently based on browser, website, and other factors. Adding animation is also more difficult due to the limited number of libraries built out for basic animations, which requires it to be programmed from scratch.
That being said, it is possible to have gorgeous and compelling animations in HTML5. To do so requires playing to HTML5’s strengths — not just simulating what you would normally do in Flash.
Request thorough quality assurance
To secure the highest quality ads across browsers and platforms, a more meticulous quality assurance (QA) workflow will need to be put in place. In other words, include extra time toward the end of production, specifically for testing.
With Flash-based ads, a lengthy testing process is not required because the creative is sandboxed on the webpage, which prevents its code from “bleeding out” on other parts of the website. HTML5, on the other hand, runs the risk of conflicting with other code on the page. Insufficient QA testing can potentially lead to a multitude of problems, such as CSS collisions that may devastate a publisher’s website.
Because HTML5 renders differently across individual browsers and devices, verifying quality is even more critical. Allotting more time for QA will ensure that ads work properly and produce the best results.
A noteworthy alternative that would mitigate this strenuous process is serving the creative through ad tags, which are served using iFrames and are supported by all ad servers. The ad tag would deliver the HTML5 ad without having to upload separate files to the publisher’s ad server, eliminating the need for an extensive QA process.
Ad tech’s place in the puzzle
Many creative agencies are rushing to improve their competency in producing HTML5 ads from scratch and may find themselves unable to handle the needs of a client who is underwater in Flash creatives. A project can take up to 30-40 percent more time and effort to plan, budget, and QA to complete the entire production process, depending on its scope.
Simple conversion tools from Flash to HTML5, such as Google’s Swiffy tool, may help with this transition, but the results of conversion are known to range from inconsistent to completely broken. When Flash to HTML5 conversion fails, a skilled programmer is required to edit the ad and rebuild parts of it from the ground up.
Many ad tech providers offer creative tools to make it easier to design interactive HTML5-based ads without having to code. Unique features are dedicated to improving ad production workflows, such as generating ad tags and integrating fraud detection and viewability tracking. Ad technologies are specifically engineered for a high volume of work, such as creating many sizes, versions, and campaigns, which will help tremendously to speed up the transition.
Ready or not, the days of Flash in advertising are over. Now is the time to proactively work with your media agency to establish the best course of action for all campaigns currently served in Flash, while considering time, cost, and skills. By adopting the right technologies and workflows, the shift to HTML5 can be made as seamless and painless as possible.
Melody Yan is a Senior Account Manager at Thunder, a creative management platform that enables publishers, agencies and advertisers to match creative executions to the increasing variety of targeting segments and ad formats. As a key member of the Accounts team, her focus is on preparing accounts for success with display advertising and Thunder’s technology.