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Farewell to Flash Banners, Hello HTML5

For years animated banner ads have been powered mostly by Adobe Flash. The Flash platform enables rich animation with comparatively small file sizes, but recent developments in the Internet landscape have now come to outweigh those benefits:

  • Apple iPhones and other mobile devices, including Android, can’t see Flash, and Internet traffic from these devices is on the rise.
  • In September Google Chrome started blocking Flash banner animation unless a user clicks on the banner. This is adversely affecting click-through rates.
  • Recent security issues with Flash caused the developers of the Mozilla Firefox browser to disable Flash temporarily and raised the idea that Flash may be removed or disabled in the other major browsers in the near future.
  • Most industry watchers and main players are recommending dropping Flash for banners.

In other words, the majority of mobile users are already unable to see Flash banners, and the desktop experience is heading in the same direction.

So what do we do now? There are three alternatives to Flash: static JPEGs or GIFs, animated GIFs, and HTML5. Each has pluses and minuses.

Static JPEGs or GIFs — The Baseline for Banners
Static JPEGs or GIFs are easy and inexpensive to produce and they have small file sizes. They’re perfectly fine for many uses, but don’t grab attention the way animation can.

Animated GIFs — A Step Up
They provide animation, but it’s closer to a slide show than the smooth Flash experience. The low frame rate makes animation jittery, and file sizes grow quickly if you try to get too fancy.

HTML5 — The New State of the Art for Banners
HTML5 banners use JavaScript code or CSS to manipulate text and graphic elements, creating a Flash-like experience across all device types (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc.) without requiring a software plugin. But:

  • HTML5 takes longer to develop and test than Flash and therefore costs more, affecting schedules and budgets.
  • Fonts need to be web safe or converted into graphics.
  • HTML5 file sizes can be much larger than Flash’s .swf file, so the specs from the website and/or third-party banner ad server need to be reconsidered, as they now have to adapt to these new limitations.
  • Animation rendering is inconsistent across different web browsers, making cross-browser testing a factor. This wasn’t the case with Flash.
  • HTML5 will only work in modern browsers (animated GIFs will work in almost any browser).
  • HTML5 is fairly new, so the pool of developers is smaller than for Flash. The scarcity of well-established design tools requires additional expertise, and in some cases, a shift from visual design to code-based design.
  • There is software available to automatically convert existing Flash banners into HTML5, but these tools don’t work in every scenario.

Our recommendation is that you immediately stop producing Flash banners (if you haven’t already). Choose one of the alternative technologies based on the creative concept, the budget, and the other factors described above. If you elect to use HTML5, check that the company serving the ad supports it.