Gone in a Flash: Why your wonderful online creative may never be seen

The advertising industry has long been a driving force for digital innovation. It is responsible for some of the most iconic and celebrated pieces of work across the marketing disciplines. Yet the very technological advances which allow the industry to thrive are also the very thing holding it back. This is putting the work of some of the industry’s most talented creatives at risk.

For years now the industry has pushed the widespread adoption of a platform-neutral approach to creating content. With recent figures released by the Advertising Association and Warc predicting a further 43.4 per cent growth in mobile advertising by the end of 2015, change is becoming increasingly crucial for creative survival.

Currently many creatives still design digital content using Adobe Flash. For more than a decade it has been the only software that enables rich audio and video content to run on the web. But poor performance, vast consumption of power and waning security are signalling the end of Flash.

In January 2015, YouTube became the first platform to officially dump Adobe Flash as its default web player in favour of HTML5, which natively supports on demand and live video streaming sources. Later, Google also announced that Chrome would automatically pause Flash content that wasn’t ‘central’ to a web page. As a result over 100m Flash ads are now being paused each day. The message from the main browser platforms is clear – Flash is over as a creative tool.

Adobe narrowed its focus in its 2012 Flash Roadmap to gaming and ‘premium’ video. It was even quoted as saying that HTML5 was the “best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms”.

Though it might be painful to admit for an industry that has relied on Flash for over a decade, the right choice is to start creating desktop ads in the HTML5 language. These can then be easily translated to create ads for mobile and tablet devices.

“Impending restrictions force the adoption of HTML5”

For those creating desktop ads, Flash is a familiar solution that they've developed expertise in over the years. In some ways, Flash is actually superior to HTML5 when it comes to rendering animations and before agencies can start developing their desktop offerings in HTML5, they will need to work hard and invest real resources to educate designers on the platform's strengths and weaknesses.

This move will also require huge pressure from media buyers to persuade publishers to start supporting HTML5 standard ads unique technical requirements. Most publishers' ad specifications are currently not big enough to hold HTML5 files and, while it won't necessarily be difficult for publishers to make this change, it will take advertiser pressure to tweak the specs that they’ve been using for years.

“Marketers and consumers will both benefit from the HTML5 switch”

However, agencies that move quickly to adopt HTML5 desktop will have the benefit of being able to run the same creative across desktop, mobile and table. This will ensure a truly seamless experience for consumers and save brands the cost of redeveloping creative assets specifically for mobile.

The benefits of HTML5 are now very clear for marketers. HTML5’s flexible dimensions allow the use of the same creative for a variety of placements and without relying upon third-party plugins or special file types.

“HTML5 creative build tools can simplify the process”

Luckily there are tools out there to help. HTML5 creative build tools can guide developers through the switch and Google Web Designer aims to bring together “animation and interactive elements” to create “seamless integration with other Google products”. Equally, Adobe Edge Animate can also offer support to designers looking to build interactive HTML5 animation for web. All of these tools are making it simpler than ever for creative agencies to make the switch to HTML5 – and it is a step that needs to be taken.

Whilst making the shift from Flash to HTML5 will have its teething pains, especially for an industry that has grown-up comfortable with Flash for over a decade, the only other choice is to sit on our hands and wait for the day when all of our wonderful animated creative content is stopped in its tracks.

Louisa Newby is technology strategy director at iProspect UK. Digital operations specialist Chloe Nicholls and account director Lawrence Seguin also contributed to the piece.

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