HTML5 and the Reinvention of Online Display Campaigns

September 1st, 2015 marked the beginning of the end for flash. Since then, advertisers have worked hard to embrace the new order that is HTML5.  But did you know that other online developers – game programmers and designers, for example – have been using HTML5 instead of flash for years?

Jon, our newest ad ops specialist, is also a game programmer. When he started in ops, he was surprised to see that flash was only now being phased out. “When I was in school [for programming], my instructors didn’t want to teach flash, because they said we’re never going to use it. That was years ago,” he said. “When I came here, I was like “what’s this?”” (referring to the swf files he received from clients).  “The ad industry was really slow to adopt HTML5.”

Out of curiosity, I asked Jon why HTML5 is preferred in the game-programming world.  His list sounded awfully familiar, because all the reasons translate perfectly to the ad industry:

  • Cross-platform capabilities – Advertisers reach audiences seamlessly from one device to the next
  • Responsive support – Ads automatically adapt to changes in screen resolution or landscape / portrait mode
  • Superior video rendering – HTML5 videos are easily processed and displayed by browsers
  • Efficient creation, especially when using aspect ratios – Build one ad that works on all devices instead of multiple ads that must be trafficked separately
  • Lighter footprint, and better performance – Progressive loading is awesome
  • SEO-friendly – HTML5 creatives have interrelated elements that web crawlers recognize, meaning users can search for memorable moments from your ad

Great reasons, to be sure – and they all boil down one thing.

HTML5 is the perfect new forum for good old-fashioned creativity. Today’s online user expects a responsive, interactive experience. By being so agile, HTML5 offers developers and advertisers more room to meet those expectations in innovative, clever ways.

All this gives me a renewed hope for display advertising in 2016.  To bolster my optimism, I looked at a few successful HTML5-driven campaigns from the past year.  Before the official end of flash, some agencies were using the unique capabilities of HTML5 to build compelling, fun creatives – and they were rewarded with plenty of user engagement and attention.

Ikea share the bathroom

Ikea’s #ShareTheBathroom campaign

This one has got lots of attention in 2016 (shortlisted for Cannes). It’s a great example of using HTML5 to engage audiences on a level beyond brand awareness.  Users were able to customize their own ad and retarget other members of their household. After the initial display, this clever campaign became about the user and their message, instead of about the brand.

Avis: Project Re-brief

In a similar fashion, this campaign allowed users to write reviews or share experiences about their Avis car rental. In less than 10 seconds, a customized video is sent back to the user, incorporating their feedback into a slick, new video ad.  Using HTML5, the agency built a campaign that invites interaction and gives instant gratification (and validation) in the form of a shareable video.

White Collar

White Collar – USA network

This “gamified” ad (see side-note below) was targeted to iPad users on the New York Times webpage.  Note that it wasn’t part of the app – it was the web version of the site.  HTML5 allowed the agency to make use of touch-screen functionality to create a simple, fun experience.  When brands offer easy interaction, without commitment, users respond by giving their attention and time.

We’re in an age when AdBlock Plus has exceeded 300 million installs, and internet users feel that ads are an inconvenience at best, and a security issue at worst. Imagine banners and video that are seen as conduits for useful information, delightful interaction, and even social awareness. HTML5 could very well be one of the main tools to give display advertising a new life beyond brand recognition – and 2016 is the year to start.

Side-note: perhaps 2016 is also the year of gamifying ads?  According to Celtra, the average time spent on gamified ads is 30% higher than standard ads. Click-through rates are seven times higher!