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Marketing September 8, 2014

Flash vs HTML5: The Future of Online Advertising

Whose side are you on?

The Flash vs HTML5 debate is ongoing and there are conflicting suggestions as to which is ‘better’ for developing rich content online. While many may say that HTML5 is the future and that Flash is dead, we will discuss how each solution has a place in our websites and how each will fit into the future of online ads.

Here’s what will be covered:

  • Quick overview of the two technologies
  • Compatibility across devices and what this means for your users
  • Costs of implementation (in both money and time)
  • The future of advertising online through Flash and HTML5

Let's take a quick look at how Flash and HTML5 size-up against each other in one of the key technical arguments in online advertising today.

HTML5 and Flash at a Glance

HTML5 is the newest version of the HyperText Markup Language that uses pure code to generate dynamic content such as online banner ads. The goal of the standard has been to make it easy for both humans and machines to read the code and to allow for a dynamic standardization of the various media that continuously need to be supported online.

Flash, on the other hand, stores interactive content in containers and renders it in browsers using the Adobe Flash Player plug-in. It was created to simplify interactive elements and allow for bi-directional streaming of information between the user and site.

Compatibility and Reach

According to Adobe, Flash supports 70% of web-based games, including many of the top Facebook games. Almost 75% of web videos are viewed using Flash and 85% of the most-visited websites incorporate Flash in one or other form. Importantly 99% of browsers support the technology, which points to its immense reach.

But HTML5 is quickly catching up, mostly because it is the web technology of choice for mobile, but also because the PC market has contracted, with  most recent figures by market research firm IDC pointing to a 10% drop in 2013 shipments. Most modern mobile devices do not support Flash so developers are creating browser-based online games and online advertisements using HTML5 to cater to these devices. It is estimated 50% of internet users use their mobile as their primary internet source, meaning that at least 50% of internet users with not be able to view flash-based content, so it is easy to see why developers are preferring HTML5 over Flash.

Despite this, companies may not want to completely abandon Flash for HTML5 due to the lack of support when it comes to internet browsers. From's figures, it can be deduced that a maximum of 68% of desktop browsers are HTML5 compatible, which means that 32% of potential desktop users won't be able to watch your videos unless there is a fallback to Flash.

Lack of compatibility might be of concern to those wanting create online banner advertisements as one does not want to lose potential customers because their banner ad hasn’t displayed on the screens of people who are using older internet browsers or computer devices. Albeit a legitimate concern, there is a solution to this. 

There is a possibility to take still images from HTML5 banner ads to create a  fallback GIF banner advertisement which users of these older systems will be able to view. Therefore businesses do not need to be worried about isolating a portion of the market because their online banner advertisement will always be viewable in some form.

Costs and Benefits of HTML5

HTML5 is free; in creating a website using this technology, you only need to spend money on additional software like Photoshop for images and other features as well as development of the site, code, and advertisements.

What it does well:

  • Mobile support which allows your content to be viewed on smartphones and other mobile devices.
  • HTML5 allows users to play videos, music and animations on the page without requiring any plug-ins. Developers can also use just Javascript to create compelling graphics, diagrams and animations for their pages.
  • SEO support is one of the biggest advantages of HTML5 for modern-day marketers aiming to rank higher on search engines.
  • HTML5 enables better form fields and search boxes, which is advantageous for businesses looking to encourage visitors to sign forms or spend some time browsing the site.
  • HTML5 can be easily updated.
  • HTML5 allows you to create mobile responsive banner advertisements.

What to watch out for:

  • The structuring of HTML documents may be hard to understand for new designers because a good knowledge of CSS and Javascript is necessary. Therefore it is important to find an HTML ad tool that will do the job for you.
  • HTML5 is tougher to animate as easily as Flash

Costs and Benefits of Flash

Adobe Flash is an out-of-the-box development platform you must purchase. Businesses use Flash primarily to deliver a rich experience to users through animation and to create animated ads quickly.

What it does well:

  • Vector-based - eliminates the need for raster-based movie files with large file sizes.
  • Flash allows for a lot of interactivity, supporting audio, animation, and advanced video handling
  • Supported by 99% of browsers

What to watch out for:

  • Flash may not work on your users’ mobile devices
  • Since Flash is an non-neutral property, it is less open than HTML - which is an independent format
  • Authoring tools for flash can cost a lot of money

Flash vs HTML5 in Online Advertising

Aside from allowing the development of entire web pages and games, Flash and HTML5 have become important players in online advertising.

HTML5 has become the new standard in rich online advertising.

Here are some examples of these ads - made with BannerFlow - which allows you to build HTML5 banners.

HTML5 allows for the inclusion of media rich content such as video, audio and animation. Unlike Flash, HTML5 advertising campaign can be viewed on any mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, allowing for more visibility in an increasingly mobile world. For those designing and creating online banner ads, this is also good news as HTML5 code can be used on any platform and therefore does not need to be re-coded dozens of times and needs only to be optimized. 

The fact that HTML5 is mobile responsive means that your online banner ad will be resized automatically so it will look flawless regardless of whether it is being viewed on a desktop computer or a mobile phone. Flash was and is still a huge player in a number of online applications (games in particular) but HTML5 has opened up new possibilities, especially for mobile advertising (where significant portions of commerce is happening).

The development and prevalence of HTML5 reflect the technological trends in our society, namely that we are moving towards an increasingly mobile world and content that is accessible on a variety of platforms. This trend does not make Flash irrelevant, but its days may be numbered. In the mean time, this calls for more caution in the website planning process to make the most of one or both web technologies to meet the targeted goals.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of where you stand on the Adobe Flash vs HTML5 debate, it is impossible to ignore the increasing adoption and support of HTML5 to serve online advertisements. To keep up with customers who prefer mobile devices, you will have to embrace HTML5.

About the Author

Emma Cullen is a marketing trainee who is working with content and social media management at BannerFlow. BannerFlow allows businesses, advertisers, agencies and designers to create and manage large volumes of HTML5 banner advertisements in different languages in a very short time without any design team.

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