Flash as an advertising medium has suffered a killing blow from Google and Mozilla, one that has left digital marketers scrambling toward building ads in HTML5 or with HTML5-friendly ad tech. For advertisers, it’s now not only inevitable but also immediate that HTML5 adoption is a must.
The news that rocked the advertising world came in June 2015: In order to extend laptop battery life, Google Chrome will “intelligently pause” Flash animations that aren’t central to the webpage. That’s a nice way of saying that Chrome is going to pause Flash advertisements.
Then on July 13, Mozilla one-upped Google, announcing that Firefox would immediately begin blocking all versions of Flash due to the discovery of three different ways to exploit the plug-in over a five day period.
— Mark Schmidt (@MarkSchmidty) July 14, 2015
A few days following Firefox’s action, Adobe quietly released patches to Flash’s vulnerabilities, restoring the plugin’s status in the Firefox browser.
UPDATE: Amazon has joined in on the anti-Flash momentum, saying it will no longer accept Flash ads on Amazon.com or Amazon Advertising Platform.
How bad is the impact of the Chrome and Firefox updates on Flash ads?
Google Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser, with a substantial lead in usage over other options like Safari and Internet Explorer. The change to penalize Flash ads is already live in the beta version of Chrome, and Google has stated it will roll out the update to the masses soon.
Once the update goes live, Chrome users will find their ads are grayed out, with little play buttons positioned in the center, as shown below.
In this new world of paused Flash ads, delivery of a message in the ad gets tricky. If the initial frame of animation doesn’t contain the branding, core message, and call to action, the impression can be a total waste. This go against the commonplace use of animation to tell a brief story or explain a product’s value proposition before showing the offer and call to action. Flash has maintained its place in display advertising predominantly because of the motion graphics that it makes possible, and under the Chrome pause, that type of animation is now a liability.
Looking at a breakdown of browser versions from June 2015 on StatCounter, a well-respected data source for browser adoption, we can see Chrome 43 has a 27% share of US desktop computers, and Firefox has close to 10%. Because Chrome auto-updates when new patches are available, we can theorize that about 27% of US desktops will begin to auto-pause Flash ads once the Google update proliferates.
Firefox is the third most popular browser in the US. During the period where Firefox began auto-blocking Flash, those 10% of Firefox users started seeing static fallback creatives in place of animated Flash ads.
The Outlook gets far bleaker for international advertisers, where Chrome has a stronger presence with a share of over 40% and Firefox is up to over 12%.
In addition, Safari, one of the other three leading web browsers, already offers an option to pause Flash content instead of auto-playing it. The option is not turned on by default (yet), but it seems reasonable to expect they may follow the lead of the other dominant browsers.
The consequences of the anti-Flash push to save laptop battery life has killed off Flash as a format for advertising. But this day has been many years in the making.
Flash was already fading due to lack of mobile support
As smartphones and tablets reached the tipping point in 2014, multi-platform users became the digital majority. Even the maker of Flash, Adobe, announced it’s support for HTML5 as the mobile platform of the future way back in 2011.
Every year, more and more web activities are accomplished on mobile devices. Because Flash isn’t supported on these devices, their proliferation has already pushed Flash to the precipice of obsolescence as a digital advertising medium.
In fact, Flash has long been suffering from a terminal case of innovator’s dilemma. While HTML5 may have started out as a niche technology that was less versatile than Flash as an advertising medium, over time the tables have turned due to shifts in the technological landscape and necessity of adopting mobile-friendly internet standards.
Flash was never designed for advertising to begin with. The biggest issues stem from the fact that the Flash plugin isn’t native to the web browser. On the other hand, HTML5 support is built into the core of all modern web browsers.
Because of this, all Flash ads must have static backup images available for devices that either can’t or don’t have the plugin enabled—devices like just about every smartphone or tablet out there.
So now in addition to static backup problems, Chrome users will experience a similar issue, a paused ad. This is actually less ideal than a static backup, since if the primary message and branding for the ad is not in view on load, it will be paused without that content visible to the user. But the combined effect of the two together are a deathblow to the platform’s ability to effectively deliver an advertiser’s message.
Making the shift to HTML5
The news about Chrome and Firefox has left many advertisers scrambling to accelerate efforts to replace Flash production workflows with new HTML5-friendly ones.
To many, some of the recently developed tools that help with converting Flash into HTML5 may seem like a panacea, allowing for producers to retain their Flash-based approach. A word of caution: Flash and HTML5 are fundamentally different technologies, and the results of conversion can range from inconsistent to totally broken. To ensure creative quality, the producer is often thrust back into an HTML5 authoring program like Adobe Edge Animate or Google Web Designer in order to fix any problems in the conversion, requiring parts of the ad to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Starting the interactive design in a single platform like PaperG can relieve a lot of headaches. We have been making investments in HTML5 advertising for years so that users can rapidly put together elegant HTML5 ads without ever having to touch the code. Since ad technologies are engineered specifically for advertising, the entire workflow is streamlined to that singular use, and other value-add technologies, such as a fraud detection, can be seamlessly built in.
Whatever HTML5 ad production process you move ahead with, what’s more important is that you start now, before 27-40% of your ads start getting put on pause.
Rather than the end of an era, we see this as a new beginning, one that finally provides a good reason to fully invest in HTML5 and ensure all digital ads look just as great on mobile devices as desktops, especially if they are running on Google Chrome.
Check out our comprehensive FAQ for transitioning display ads from Flash to HTML5.