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HTML5 vs. Flash: A Turning Point for Online Ads

By August 7, 2015 Industry Topics

A Freedman International blog post has stirred up some conversation in the FRWD office about which format is better for banner ads: HTML5 or Flash.

The focus of the Flash vs. HTML5 debate is on mobile compatibility. Flash has typically been the go-to format for rich media banner ads, but the rise of HTML5 continues the trend toward mobile-first marketing.

Quick Overview

  • Flash: Traditional web standard multimedia format. Significant tool & platform support in building a variety of multimedia content. Coding not required, but certainly supported.
    • File Format: .swf
    • Pros: Significant tool support. “What you see is what you get.”
    • Cons: Requires plugins. Not supported on most mobile devices. More difficult to implement from the Publisher side (i.e. more easily broken).
  • HTML5: Latest iteration of the most prevalent web technology. What’s “new” is significantly extended multimedia support across virtually every browser and device. No plugins required.
    • File Format: .html
    • Pros: Cross-device compatible, virtually universal multimedia support.
    • Cons: Coding required. Potential “unpredictable rendering,” challenges to workflow.

Thoughts From the FRWD Team

Kevin Wind, Senior Designer:

Flash was the cat’s pajamas back in the day. “Flash, Flash, Flash, Flash” was the cry because making nifty animations was easier than trying to code it out. However, it has never been without issues when you hand off some animation and try to make it work with all computers, everywhere. Now, we obviously have not only computers, but also tablets, and phones’ designs have to be optimized to work with. Flash is not supported on all devices, and if you only use that tool, you limit yourself. Flash is now just another tool to use and there are applications for it, but it’s not the end all.

That being said, HTML5 does the trick, but how does a visual person approach such a thing when coding is not the playground one likes playing in?

Before I continue, I do want to say that I have many coder friends and they love their code and coding in general. I, however, don’t like it much at all, although I recognize it makes everything I create function like it should. On that level, I too love code by proxy. There’s no getting around it.

I’ve been approaching the Flash vs. HTML5 issue from a visual perspective and have been researching various programs that let one animate similar to Flash or After Effects, but spit everything out in code.  Adobe Edge CC has been the first stop and that has been going well, in terms of letting me animate, add actions and pump an animation I’ve created in Flash in a new way, which will presumably work splendidly on all devices.

So that’s fun. If there are better programs out there, I’m going to find them as well. In the meantime, let’s all get on the path to bridging code, animation and design in a post-Flash, as the cat’s pajamas, world.

Doug Harrington, Senior Analyst:

Seems like a no-brainer that the industry as a whole is moving towards HTML5. The argument pretty much ends at “mobile compatibility” as most phones don’t render Flash. The [Freedman] article makes several other compelling points that really suggest the inevitable decline of our old friend the SWF.

One interesting counterpoint mentioned on ad distribution: “Flash is much more widely accepted in mainstream advertising systems than HTML. This situation is changing, but there are still a number of places you may want to advertise than can’t accept HTML yet.” For what it’s worth, the technology our agency uses accepts HTML5 formats — and in general, this seems like an increasingly less relevant argument as virtually all industry leading technologies accept HTML5

In fact, the argument could be made that distribution is better for HTML5 ads, because HTML5 rich media is more compatible with mobile inventory than Flash. As advertisers, we’re more likely to utilize mobile inventory with HTML5 rich media creative, rather than defaulting to “oh you’re on a phone, and this a SWF? Here’s static image for you!” I sniffed out a stat (below) on viewability, which really reinforces this point by looking at the gap between HTML5 rich media vs Flash.

Google Chrome’s Power Saver Feature

In an effort to prevent Flash from draining your laptop’s battery, Google Chrome will roll out its Plugin Power Saver feature as a default in September. This affects the HTML5 vs. Flash debate because, with the feature, Flash ads will automatically pause if they aren’t central to the webpage. (Note: Users have the option to resume playback.) Central content will continue to play without any interruption.

To prevent your ads from being paused, Google Chrome recommends using image formats to build display and ad creatives:

powersaver2What Do You Think?

Though we’re still working to find mobile-friendly Flash solutions, our teams agreed that cross-device compatibility is more important than holding on to a format. Comment below your opinion on which format is best: Flash vs. HTML.