Digital Update – Flash Is Dying


With the decline of Flash, what are the alternatives for marketers? Oscar Lie, from our Story Lab team, looks at life after Flash...

If you haven’t heard it yet, you’re hearing it now: Flash is becoming obsolete.

This decline started with the growth of the smartphone and the refusal of Apple to adopt the software, which later also led Android not to adopt it for their latest devices. Now on desktop we are even seeing Safari and Firefox making it necessary for users to opt in to see Flash. While Google Chrome still enables Flash by default, it recently released a version of its browser where Flash content remains idle until the user actively engages with it.

A recent study shows that using Flash in online ads is a tactic that is costing marketers billions in wasted ads and lost potential customers for their business. Sizmeck released their Mobile Insight Index of 2015 which showed that marketers and advertisers are still using Flash for their campaigns. So you’re probably wondering, with Flash in its death throes and marketers losing billions due to non-compatibility, why are we not changing to the better alternative, HTML5?

Firstly, Flash has been the industry standard for over a decade and teaching old dogs new tricks is no easy feat! To add to that HTML5 is not perfect either; it is inferior to Flash when it comes to rendering animations so there is definitely a trade-off that needs to be made. However, the biggest issue of making the move to HTML5 involves changing our digital production strategy, mainly in implementing a robust quality assurance plan.

Why, I hear you say? Well, it’s all down to device fragmentation which in its simplest form refers to the ever growing number of mobile devices available on the market (from smartphones, to Kindles, to smart TVs). The implication for us marketers is that any ad unit we create has to run across a huge variety of devices in all different sizes and shapes. This means we’ll need to test our creative on more platforms than ever before – otherwise we risk our ads not rendering as designed or even worse not rendering at all.

With Flash ads only running on desktop and generally behaving similarly across all operating systems, marketers often got away with using a developer or project manager to test their ads on a random assortment of computers that happened to be available in the office that day. With HTML5 running across so many different devices, we as marketers will need a dedicated quality assurance team if we want to avoid wasting money on defective ads.

The challenge and magnitude of the amount of different devices that an HTML5 needs to function on becomes apparent  when you look at the picture above left. This image from 2014 is a visual representation of all the distinct devices that run Android – if you’re having trouble counting it’s probably because there are 18,769.

How are we supposed to test our ads on so many devices you ask?

Well before you panic, here are a few ways we can position ourselves to succeed:

  1. Keep up with all of the latest releases so that you can test your ads on new devices the moment consumers get their hands on them.
  2. Know what your consumer audience is using.
  3. Hire a qualified QA team or contract with an outside partner.
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