Over six years have passed since Steve Job’s industry stirring “Thoughts on Flash.” Jobs predicted “open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too).” No surprise, Steve was right. HTML5 won. Almost everyone has decided to embrace HTML5. Almost. Advertising is one of the last holdouts (along with early aughts fancy restaurant sites). That is changing, and the change has the potential to accelerate. Here's why.

Browser Changes

In the coming months, Chrome (version 53+) and Safari (version 10 in Sierra) plan to disable Flash plug-ins by default. Google AdX will block Flash content in January 2017 and Microsoft Edge will follow suit later in the year. If not being able to serve on mobile devices wasn’t already enough the inclusion of desktop browsing in that category should light a fire under the creative agencies that still insist on designing in Flash. There will be fewer and fewer places left to serve.

Consequently, marketers and agencies would be well advised to move away Flash creatives. Flash limits scale pure and simple. Limited scale can cripple performance. Marketers still using Flash create an artificial disadvantage for themselves in the marketplace.

IAB Standards

One of the barriers to HTML5's proliferation in online advertising is that IAB standards for HTML5 ad interoperability have not been widely adopted. Right now HTML5 advertising is made unnecessarily difficult by the fact that basic elements like dynamic landing pages and click tracking are handled differently by all ad builders. Ad traffickers often must edit HTML they receive from creative agencies before uploading it to their ad server. This is slow, aggravating, and ripe for error.

The IAB made life easier for ad designers this year by putting forward clickTag, a definition for setting landing pages and click tracking that closely mirrors the Flash clickthrough standard. If Google Web Designer and other popular ad builders that export HTML5 start supporting clickTag out of the box, using HTML5 will be significantly easier for ad traffickers.

Creativity & a Change in Mindset

HTML5 ads are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Right now most HTML5 ads are standard banners with basic animations. This is to be expected. Flash was largely about animations. It computes that early applications of HTML5 would simply act as a replacement to Flash. However, as designers begin to understand the possibilities HTML5 opens to them by developing in a technology native to the browser we can expect to see smarter and more creative creatives. Designers who are not afraid to get their hands dirty with HTML, CSS, and Javascript can lead the way.

HTML5 is poised to win as the replacement for Flash in digital advertising. Changes to the ecosystem, shared standards, new possibilities, and fresh mindsets could make that happen sooner rather than later.

HTML5 on AppNexus

AppNexus has dramatically improved its support of hosted HTML5 creatives. Now all clients can drop a zip containing a creative's assets and be on their way.

Clients should be sure to tell creative designers to use the IAB's clickTag standard. AppNexus created sharable step-by-step instructions for the most common HTML5 ad builders to make things easier. Learn more about HTML5 hosting on AppNexus today.

Alex Cone is a Product Manager who leads our Creative Capability.

Alex Cone

Alex Cone is a Senior Product Manager for Creative and Privacy Product

New York, NY

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