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All Hail HTML5

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Since the introduction of HTML5, the future for Flash has looked increasingly bleak. If the recent open letter from the IAB to advertisers didn’t already have you working on your new HTML5 creative strategy, hopefully this overview of its benefits will.

Pretty much everybody knows by now that the meteoric rise of mobile, combined with the amount of time users spend attached to portable devices, has changed the landscape entirely for advertisers. Taking into consideration that Flash is not supported by devices running iOS and many Android devices, and the recent announcements that Chrome and Firefox will not be supporting Flash for much longer either, it begs the question; why are so many agencies and advertisers dragging their feet when it comes to adopting HTML5?

So what is HTML5 and what is so good about it?

HTML5 is the latest version of Hyper Text Markup Language, the standard for which was finalised back in October 2014. It is a code-based language used to create online banner ads along with a huge range of website content.

The stand-out feature for HTML5 is its multi-screen adaptability. Banner ads will re-size automatically to be responsive to all mobile/tablet screen sizes without needing to create mobile-specific ad units. Although Flash didn’t do a terrible job of enabling engaging, animated ads; the possibilities for rich media and video ad formats using HTML5 are far superior. Dynamic content has improved significantly using HTML5 to populate banner ads with live price changes, promotional offers, countdowns and a multitude of other interactive formats that Flash simply can’t compete with.

Aside from the aesthetic advantages and improved user experience, HTML5 creative is also SEO-friendly. Their code-based structure means they are accessible to web crawlers and search engines. This is a feature that Flash ads lack as they are packaged in a closed container. Traditionally, creating a full set of Flash banners has been an expensive and labour intensive task. The adaptability of HTML5 for different screen-sizes removes the need for creating multiple ad units and reduces operational costs significantly. Luke Westland, MD at Scenestealer; Croud’s HTML5 development partner of choice, had this to say about the adoption of HTML5:

“While an in-house Flash expert was desirable, it is now an expensive surplus to requirements as the Flash alternative in the form of HTML5 is very easy and hassle-free to adopt. When you consider that HTML5 is capable of running on any device, whether Mobile, Android, iPad, tablet or smartphone, switching seems obvious – yet why haven’t all agencies and clients made the switch?”

A recent study by Sizmek looked into the consequences of running Flash ads on incompatible devices. The study found, unsurprisingly, that Flash ads performed only marginally better than static GIFs and found engagement rates through HTML5 ads to triple those of Flash. Sizmek’s study also claims that Mobile’s share (combining smartphone and tablet) of display impressions has almost doubled year-on-year to top 30% in Q1 of 2015. So that means a lot of costly Flash banners going to waste.

performance comparison HTML5 and Flash

It wouldn’t be fair, however, to only sing the praises of HTML5 without pointing out that it does have one or two pitfalls. I was sent into a tailspin of panic when I heard that Flash support would be discontinued by Chrome and Firefox. I worried about how I would on-board clients from the safety net of Flash over to HTML5, faced with development tools such as Google Web Designer and DoubleClick Studio and no code-writing knowledge at all. A sentiment which, I’m sure, was shared by many.

There’s a lot of work to be done to educate clients and agencies alike on processes for preparing creative on the client’s side, and trafficking HTML5 creative at the agency side. Since working with an experienced developer for our HTML5 adoption, a lot of these worries have been taken away. It also guarantees that the creative is coded correctly. Badly-coded banners can behave unpredictably across different screens, browsers and devices. Since Flash is a file compiled in advance, the visual effect is much more stable and predictable; which is sadly perhaps the only card that Flash has to play here.

I’ll leave you with this parting message from Scenestealer’s MD, Luke Westland; since I couldn’t have put it any better myself:

“It’s time that agencies and clients understood the benefits of HTML5 and embraced it the next time they are tasked with a multi-device campaign. Building in HTML5 is the only way to ensure an agency’s campaign (and reputation) isn’t gone in a flash.”

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