Operating Without a Standard

We are at a tipping point in online advertising (OLA) after the recent announcement that Google Chrome will – by default – block Flash ads starting in September. This is the final nail in the coffin for Flash-based ads, and it elevates HTML5 as the option of choice for OLA animation. Flash is finished, HTML5 is king. So how go the rules now? The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) – the authority for producers, ad servers and publishers of OLA – has yet to set a standard for HTML5. As a result, there is confusion on how to run, build and price digital ads on the Web.

For nearly 20 years, Flash was king, and the 40K spec that the IAB set was standard for a banner ad. But this was a time when the Web was still young, with slower connections and clunky content. Now connections are faster, pages load differently and there is a huge mobile component to all Internet traffic. Flash was never built to run on the mobile Web, and early device producers did not allow the plugin to function because of security and battery concerns (see the late Steve Jobs’ thoughts on Flash). This meant only static defaults could render on mobile devices.

HTML5 Logo
Around 2010, HTML5 was introduced as the new way of making the Internet faster and more mobile-friendly. Website adoption was quick, except in the OLA world. That is finally changing. The WC3 (the authority on web development) recently standardized HTML5, allowing for larger file sizes and JavaScript (.js) to produce animation. Both are what modern web browsers use to render content, thus making the experience function more like a native language, relying less on third-party plugins such as Flash. HTML5 also loads asynchronously, balancing the page and ad loads, making for a better experience.

Though it took a few years, Internet ad servers finally have figured out how to serve, track and monetize HTML5 OLA, keeping it as efficient as possible. Publishers, however, have taken their cue from the IAB and have been slow to adopt anything other than the antiquated 40K Flash standard. This has led to confusion and created all kinds of problems. Even though the IAB made some guideline changes in the summer of 2013 for HTML5, the industry desperately needs the IAB to standardize HTML5 OLA specifications to help get everybody on the same page.

New HTML5 Standards

My suggestions for these new standards include:

  • Larger file size (75K-100K, as outlined in the guidelines from the IAB’s 2013 report).
  • Allowing producers to use common JavaScript libraries, such as jQuery, TweenLite, CreateJs, and to allow use of content delivery networks (CDNs) to enable browsers to cache assets, thus making subsequent uses easier to load.
  • The use of PNGs to keep our image file sizes small. Crushers and image compression software can help find a balance between file size and quality. The use of scalable vector graphics (SVG) could also be a lightweight alternative to images, but even SVG can be clunky to animate.
  • Find a way to incorporate the use of custom fonts. For now, custom font use will continue to be a problem, with rights and styling issues still a hurdle.
  • Make it standard that ad server-specific API calls and code do not count against file size limits.

Embrace It

Currently, ad producers are operating in a gray area until a standard is set. There is talk that the IAB will release a new standard soon, but until then, we as industry leaders need to be nimble and continue to push the envelope. Embrace the change; it’s technology and it changes every day.


  • HTML5 for Digital Advertising: Guidance for Ad Designers & Creative Technologists

  • Thoughts on Flash


Comma Karma