Gabey Goh
Oct 27, 2015

Agencies and advertisers struggling with post-Flash reality

SINGAPORE - Close to two months after Google stopped auto-playing flash ads on its Chrome browser, it seems many advertisers and agencies are still grappling with the shift to a Flash-free world.

Alvin Koay
Alvin Koay

The industry estimates roughly 84 percent of banners across the internet would not be viewable on desktop browsers. Back in August, Sizmek estimated that at least 33 billion Flash impressions will default in 2016, resulting in the loss of nearly 400 million interactions.

Google’s move is only the latest in the technology industry’s general shift away from Flash. In 2011, Adobe abandoned Flash Player for mobile devices and at the start of the year, YouTube moved to the HTML5 standard. Firefox has made the move as well.

Jordan Khoo, vice president, Asia-Pacific at Sizmek in an article for Campaign Asia-Pacific argued that the industry must embrace HTML5 to better adapt.

“By adopting a more robust standard and making HTML5 their technology of choice for digital ads, agencies and publishers can make their lives much easier and avoid having to answer all of the questions that will be raised by their Flash-based campaigns in the coming months,” he wrote.

But executing that transition appears to be a bumpy undertaking for many.

According to Alvin Koay, chief executive of, many are “running like chickens without heads.”

“For those traditional desktop web-based agencies, they are caught off-guard and are flocking to Flash-to-HTML5 converters like Swiffy from Google and other free tools available,” he said.

However, the converted files are usually large in size and are not fully optimised. And the conversion usually handles simple animations from Flash files only.

In addition, Koay said rich-media ads these days are increasingly more advanced and geared toward embedded widgets such as videos, social media walls, tap-to-call and ecommerce functions.

“In order to do ads with these kinds of embedded ‘mini applications’, agencies need to outsource to expensive production agencies or use specialised ad creators,” he added. “The free Flash-to-HTML5 converters are not enough for more complicated ads.”

Rich media moves up the rankings

Koay reported that the company is seeing much higher adoption of rich-media ads, especially from countries like Japan and Indonesia, but this is limited to large international brands.

Most local brands and performance advertisers are still using static banners or simple animated HTML5 banners, built using the free Flash-to-HTML5 converters.

“We are not even near the tipping point yet as advertisers are still trying to solve niggling issues such as tracking, viewability, standard-compliance and ad fraud in the mobile advertising space,” he said.

“Even large agencies are still generally clueless about mobile advertising, and they are still outsourcing most rich-media creatives to their traffic source partners,” he added.

Smaller players priced out

According to Koay, the current HTML5 ad creators used by agencies are expensive and complicated. But most agencies have no choice.

“So they run rich-media campaigns mostly with big budget clients only,” he said. “For small agencies, they are limited to the free Flash-to-HTML5 converters to solve an immediate Flash pain point.”

Agencies generally try to avoid hiring in-house programmers Koay added, and the ones required for rich-media mobile technologies are rare, and therefore expensive.

As for agencies already running mobile campaigns, they are much more prepared, as the mobile platform is fully on HTML5 since inception.

“The small budget advertisers use static-image standard banners, but bigger agencies will rely on ad-tech companies such as DSPs or their traffic-source partners such as ad networks, to help in their rich-media campaigns,” he added.

Most of the DSPs or ad-inventory partners have their internal rich-media teams to help the agencies. To run them, there is a minimum campaign budget, which is usually out of reach for smaller agencies.

“So, generally, smaller players can only use simple HTML5 animated banners or animated GIF to solve the Flash problem, not ads with embedded rich-media ‘applications’,” said Koay.

SaaS-ing out a solution is a mobile marketing solutions provider based out of Singapore, and has offices in Penang and Tokyo.

Development work on the company’s cloud-based ad creator and ad server began three years ago, said Koay, driven by the notion that ad spaces can be much more than just static and/or animated image ads.

“We wanted to turn ad spaces into micro-websites that have embedded ‘widgets’, and we knew that these kinds of ads are too expensive for smaller advertisers," he said. "So we decided to democratise the digital industry by making the same advanced interactive ads used by big brands available at a more cost effective price point. We also idiot-proofed our ad creator and made it a self-serve platform to make it more accessible.”

This week, the company launched a white-label SaaS-In-A-Box Ad Suite for small to medium-sized ad agencies, a move aimed at taking advantage of the boom in mobile advertising, which is projected to top US$100 billion worldwide in 2016.

The company’s new SaaS (software-as-a-service) suite is touted as enabling agencies to build rich-media banner ads cost effectively, without the need for programming skills, and serve them out via major ad-traffic sources.

It also boasts a reporting dashboard with detailed analytics. Prices start from US$99/month to US$799/month for the enterprise plans.

Koay said that smaller agencies using the tool have started using it to run small performance and location-based campaigns for budget advertisers such as auto dealerships, property agents, restaurants, local politicians and even funeral parlours.

“Most of them are performance-based agencies with less than five employees,” he added. “Our subscribers are from the USA, India, Singapore, Poland, and many other countries. These are our early adopters.”

Major mobile mistakes provided this list of common mistakes advertisers make with mobile advertising:

  • Relying on the wrong tracking metrics: CTR instead of SAR (Secondary Action Rate) and engagements.
  • Not have a properly mobile-optimised landing page. This totally kills off the user experience.
  • Not testing out different DSPs for performance
  • Not testing creative variations
  • Not checking on the quality of ad inventories that they buy. Issues like impressions served disparities, showing ads below the fold, not viewed by human and bot traffic are all real problems
  • Not using the full potential of the mobile device such as geo-location, accelerometer, mapping, call features, and so on for their ads.
  • Not differentiating targeting/standards for in-app and mobile web inventories. In-app inventories use an industry standard called MRAID and the targeted users are generally different.
  • No proper engagement, attributions tracking.

Not just the small guys

Koay claims that the company’s position in the mobile marketing ecosystem offers it a unique opportunity to solve the Flash to HTML5 transition for the industry at large.

He added that while the company started off by targeting smaller ad agencies and budget advertisers, it soon discovered bigger customers via its enterprise partners.

“We have mobile DSPs and ad networks under our enterprise plans in Japan, Europe and Asia,” he said. “The traditional desktop web ad networks have a major Flash problem, and much of their ad inventories have moved to the mobile platform, which required an immediate HTML5 and mobile solution.”

While Koay was unable to share a list of partner clients, he said that major international brands are running campaigns that use the MobileAds solution. These brands include Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Pizza Hut, KFC, Kirin Beer, Warner Bros and Toyota.

“Most of the larger enterprises use a combination of our customised ad division and white-label reporting dashboard and we help with customised rich media ads too,” he said. “Using their branded dashboards powered by our solution, their clients can access campaign reports for the custom ad campaigns too.”


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