Kevin Peterson
Aug 17, 2015

The 'death of Flash' is a symptom of a larger disease

The digital advertising industry is currently scrambling to adopt HTML5 with the impending 'death of Flash'. The question we need to ask ourselves about the mad scramble, says Kevin Peterson of Pixels, is why?

Kevin Peterson is head of technology at Pixels.
Kevin Peterson is head of technology at Pixels.

This column is in response to The Flash ad is dead: Are you ready for the HTML5 interactive era?, by Sizmek's Jordan Khoo, published here on 12 August.

Update: On 28 August Google officially announced that its Chrome browser will stop autoplaying Flash ads as of 1 September.

I won’t recap the events here as the 'death of Flash' has been extensively covered in both mainstream and industry press. Let’s stop to ask ourselves: isn’t this a scene we’ve seen before? 

HTML5 isn’t a new technology. It’s been around for a very long time. Heck, it’s the very stuff the web is made out of. It first became a hot topic in 2010 when Steve Jobs publicly denounced Flash in his blog post “Thoughts on Flash” and proclaimed HTML5 as the future of web interactivity. Seeing the importance of HTML5, the IAB released its guidance on HTML5 for Digital Advertising in 2013—over two years ago.

The truth, and it hurts, is that the advertising industry has always been late to the party when it comes to adopting new technologies. The general attitude most ad people take is, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”, right?

Take the glacial pace of movement from traditional advertising to digital, for example. Since the launch of the first commercial display advertising banner on HotWired in 1994, it has taken digital (online and mobile) more than 20 years to achieve 13 per cent media share in Hong Kong (according to adMango Q2 2015 data). That's right, digital media advertising only accounts for 13 per cent of adspend in one of the most advanced digital markets in Asia. By comparison, TV takes 30 per cent while print is 40 per cent.

Let’s be honest: how many of you get your news and information from websites or apps? How many of you consume video on your set-top boxes, mobile devices or laptops? By far, digital’s consumption share remains largest with consumers among all other media and yet, the smallest with advertisers.

Digital isn’t just a small part of your life. It is your life. Print is in decline, and increasingly the younger generation has no connection to it. A child born today may never know the object we call a “newspaper”. Words printed on dead trees? How quaint.

Meanwhile, the mobile subscriber penetration rate in Hong Kong is at an all time peak of 230 per cent (more than two subscriptions per person). According to Nielsen’s 2014 report, smartphone penetration in Hong Kong is at a staggering 87 per cent, one of the highest levels in the region. Yet the industry's move to shift adspend to mobile is incredibly slow, far lagging behind user growth on mobile media. 

Related to the rise of mobile is the growth of video. Online video is the fastest growing ad category. TV viewership is dwindling as more urban youths consume information and content on their mobiles. Billboards have their place but peoples’ eyes are increasingly glued to their small screens even as they walk, shop, eat and wait at train stations. More consumers these days jump into bed with their mobiles than plop down on a couch in front of the idiot-box.

Yet despite the obvious shift of consumer attention, the industry still places inordinate amounts of adspend on traditional forms of media where consumer focus is no longer being held.

Which brings us back to HTML5. It's not just a 'technology thing'. It’s a call to the industry to wake up and take the lead. The rush (some would say 'panic') to finally adopt HTML5 is just a symptom of a larger disease within the industry: the fear of embracing change.

We have not been quick enough on the uptake when it comes to adopting new technology in the past, but this is chance to redeem ourselves. If you’re a high-ranking ad exec, understand that your consumer is likely to be your child or grandchild, or that fresh graduate, or the intern your company just hired.

Look at the media they consume, for that is the destination of your future audience. Better yet, use those media yourself. Get used to the new metrics and measurements with which you can measure and assess the successes or failures of your campaigns. Then marvel at what you can do with your new connections to your audience—digital is at once the most personal and most widely broadcast message you can send out to the consumer. The wealth of data that you get back, with new technologies coming online everyday to bridge the online-offline data gap, is stunning.

Don’t just put your print ads on mobile, place your TV commercials on YouTube or resize your billboards for web ads. Digital offers a wealth of data on your consumer, greater interactivity with your audience and more… but only if you put in the effort. A different medium calls for a different approach. Why some ad men have decried digital as not being effective is simply because they were attempting to place a square peg in a triangle-shaped hole.

The adoption of HTML5 shouldn’t be just an end, it should be the means by which we establish a firm foothold in the (not so new) era of digital consumer attention: a positive step towards the future of traditional advertising.

Kevin Peterson is head of technology at Pixels


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