In the early 2000s, Flash was supposed to revolutionize online advertising. Its animation and drawing capabilities, combined with the scripting and interactivity of ActionScript, were the future. Advertisements that users could play around with, in ways more complex than punching a monkey, were seen as a compelling alternative to the passive ads of tv, print, and flashing animated gif ads of the past. The word bandied around this type of advertising was “sticky.”
None of it stuck. While there has been a lot of good and interesting work over the years, the majority of those types of ads have been forgettable, obnoxious, and irritating. The majority of everything is horrible and Flash ads aren’t any different, but the stigma stuck. Users became increasingly aggravated and then came two final nails in the coffin.
As browsers opened up and became extensible, ad and Flash blocking add-ons grew increasingly popular. Then Google entered the fray, offering really simple text based ads that had the distinction, thanks to Google’s massive databases, of being super contextual to where they were placed. Flash experiental ads, while still around, no longer have that optimism anymore.
So with that it was interesting to see Apple focus so much on their new advertising platform, iAds, at last week’s WWDC. They demoed interactive rich media, some would say “flashy”, advertisements that were targeted at mobile devices. Words like “engaging” were used. The future was likely mentioned. And I feel like I’ve heard it all before. And I as a user, and as someone that made those same obnoxious Flash ads, don’t share that optimism and I hope that history repeats.
Apple, of course, doesn’t want that. It denied Adobe’s Flash in its iOS. If you want to make these flashy ads on its platforms, you have to do it their way. It, effectively, banned Google from advertising on its device. It has strict control of what is and isn’t allowed in the AppStore, so you’ll never get an ad blocker (even if they push one out in their own browser on the desktop.) It’s doing everything in its power to control and minimize the things that led to those very same ads becoming the ignored whipping boy of the web.
There’s just one problem with that strategy and why things are a little different than they were when the wild web was embracing rich ads: there is only one web, but there are other mobile platforms. It’ll be interesting to see how iAds are handled and how consumers react.