September 1, 2015 was a big day for the digital advertising world. Chrome and Firefox stopped supporting Adobe’s once-dominant Flash plug-in. It’s no secret that as a delivery vehicle for video creative, Flash wasn’t perfect.
Enter the new standard of HTML5. Similar to other creative developers across the industry, the crew at RhythmOne had our work cut out for us in our migration to HTML5. While the switch – “flashpocalypse” as it was jokingly dubbed – happened more or less overnight, preparation for it was a long road with many hurdles. Our creative services team learned a lot during the transition, and below are some of our learnings and insights.
Buh-Bye, Flash. Hello HTML5!
In its heyday, Flash allowed smooth transitions in animation on desktops, laptops, and Android devices. However, Apple never truly embraced it — primarily because Steve Jobs was a major opponent to the technology and its limitations. As a result, Flash never worked on iOS, and this simple incompatibility was the precursor to its downfall. Additional liabilities including security concerns, optimization problems, slower load-times, and viewability issues put the final nails in the proverbial coffin.
In addition, as cross-device campaigns paved (and are continuing to pave) the way of our programmatic future, designers had to start using multiple authoring tools to serve assets across different devices with various serving technologies.
But the Web is evolving, and the need for technology standardization continues to rise. That said, it isn’t as though HTML5 is the new kid on the block — in fact, the technology has been around for years. Widespread adoption was slow, because prior to Flash’s demise, it wasn’t universally supported in the advertising world.
Working with the New Standard
There are plenty of positives with HTML5. It renders beautiful and compelling creative. Additionally, the ad the technology serves is isolated from the publisher’s page — and that allows for faster load times and provides better tracking metrics. However, just as Flash had its limits, HTML5 isn’t obstacle-free.
First, although Flash is technically a thing of the past, some advertisers continue to use the technology. At RhythmOne, we still receive Flash assets from clients. Our team’s job is to translate the Flash format (.swf) to HTML5. For example, this banner from In the Raw shows a campaign where a client supplied us with Flash files as assets. We were able to convert them seamlessly and render the same smooth transitions and timing (with a changing message as) the ad plays.
Another hurdle with HTML5 is that its assets can be troublesome to integrate with a publisher’s site because they are isolated units within IFRAMEs. Working with an IFRAME can cause a loss of transparency into metrics and viewability, and it also means that expandable units might be cut off visually because of the IFRAME’s static boundary limits.
After much experimentation, we have a scalable method to implement for our clients. We use a modern day browser technology called postMessage. This can yield an achievable solution to work within IFRAMEs as we bypass the issues caused by cross-domain scripting. Our work for both PotteryBarn and Johnson and Wales University (at left) shows our solution in action via a desktop-only campaign and cross-screen capabilities, respectively. Built using HTML5, these units are future-proof as there is no Flash whatsoever.
The Next “Adpocalypse?”
It has been nearly a month since our industry was required to abandon Flash production. The path to HTML5 is still in flux. Smart creative minds have found a solution like ours that will serve for now. It has yet to be determined if IFRAMEs are the be-all end-all — so stay tuned!