If you haven't heard, rich-media flash banner ads are all-but being phased out thanks to moves by Google, Apple and Adobe.
As local marketing advocates, we understand small businesses already view digital media as "too complicated" and recognize that adjusting online display advertising midstream is an extra cumbersome step. For most of the local marketers we work with, they're also dependent on support from national brand partners to supply creative and/or execute media placement, so there's only so much a small business marketer can do.
Left at a crossroads wondering how changes by tech giants are impacting local online marketing campaigns, we chatted with our experts in web development and online media buying (Adam Reifsnyder and Lauren O'Hara, respectively) to figure out the best course of action. Here's what we suggest:
#1 - Understand what's happening
For the non-techy marketer, hearing Google's decision to "kill" Flash ads on its Chrome browser starting Sept. 1 may have seemed all-of-a-sudden. For those of us who have watched the battle wage against Adobe's Flash technology over the last five years, the impending "death of Flash" is not only not-news, it's a welcomed relief due to raising concern of Flash's security vulnerabilities.
Still, this week has shown us that many marketers -- on both the national and local levels -- were not totally prepared for the switch, despite copious warning signals. We chalk this up to a few valid reasons, which juxtaposes Flash against its most popular alternative, HTML5:
- HTML5 is a developer's language, not a tool used by graphic designers, who comprise most advertising creative teams that would need to change or create new creative.
- HTML5 versions of online display ads originally built in Flash come in larger (or "heavier") file sizes that can exceed ad networks limitations, costing online advertisers more money.
- It's hard for HTML5 to be "flashy" -- excusing the pun, legitimate technical limitations make it more difficult for ads created with coding language to look as smoothly animated as their Flash-based predecessors.
#2 - Determine how your online ads are affected
If you're running a current online display campaign with Flash animations now is the time to switch out any advertising creative still using Flash based on Chrome's popularity alone. And while it might be tempting to simply switch your campaigns to static ads, that means watering down your brand message and the end result leaves your brand at risk of being overlooked or, at best, looking outdated.
Even if you decide your Flash ads are fine in the networks you're advertising in, it's worth considering HTML5 ads because of their dynamic or interactive nature -- geography and weather based ads
#3 - Convert Flash to HTML5 - the quick fix
If you're advertising through Google's Display Network, there's a chance your Flash ads were already being converted to HTML5 automatically. To double check, Google's made it easy by providing Swiffy, a "simple Flash to HTML5 converter" -- the only issue is that the SWF files it produces don't always work on other ad networks, so it only solves part of your problem. (Full transparency: we're in a partnership program with Google, which includes support to execute Google Display Network campaigns.) Converting via Swiffy should also be considered the short term solution best used for current campaigns since SWF files give marketers much less flexibility down the road and reports from the field show conversions using this tool only work about half of the time.
For its part, Adobe provided guidance for how advertisers could translate Flash ads to HTML5 (using the Flash software, no less) earlier this year. They've also offered an HTML animation tool called Edge Animate, which has been met with mixed reviews by web designers and developers. It's an option, but the conversion will still require input from someone more versed in web development than web design.
Other alternatives for converting Flash banners to HTML5 -- like GreenSock -- are emerging and are sure to be more prevalent as online advertisers look to make the switch.
#4 - Review your digital ad networks' limits
As we mentioned, Google has made ad conversions to HTML5 easier for its display network and campaigns managed in Double Click. Looking across other major ad networks -- like AdBlade, Media.net and AOL's Advertising.com -- most local marketers need to determine the best way forward depending on the ads they have to convert. A few things to think about:
- Just because an ad network accepts Flash ads or other files types doesn't mean it will reach consumers
- Not all ad networks are created equal in terms of how they display creative
- Browsers are blocking or pausing the ads when they reach the device
- You may need to change your rich-media ad creative
- Not all creative concepts will convert well to HTML5
- HTML5 files sizes are generally bigger and ad networks have limits
- Different ad networks may require that HTML5 ads are setup differently since there's not yet a true standard for HTML5 rich-media ads
- The more ad networks you use, the more complicated your conversion process will be
- For examples, if you only advertise on Google's Display Network, theoretically you should be able to convert most of your ads via Swiffy and keep a campaign running without major efforts (NOTE: we've had about a 50% success rate with Swiffy, so this may not solve all your problems)
- Based on changes in requirements for file sizes and how networks interpret rich-media code, the more ad networks you use, the more file requirements you'll need to consider when converting your rich-media ads and the more tests you'll need to do to ensure your ads are displaying correctly
#5 - Build rich-media ads with HTML5 from scratch (for best results)
This is just what we're seeing after one week of Google's change to Chrome. What are you seeing? Are you converting Flash banner ads to HTML5? What's working? What's not? Let us know in the comments below.