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GIF vs. FLASH Files for Online Advertising

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Thinking about doing some on-line advertising? In addition to the graphics and message for your ad, you will also need to consider which file format to use.

Two currently valid, industry-recognized standard file types for web advertising are GIF and Flash files. Both have been around for a very long time, since 1987 and 1996 respectively.

Each format has its own use cases, pros and cons, benefits and hindrances. The market you want to reach, who will be hosting your ad and your ad’s content will all dictate which format you should choose.

Here is some basic information to help you decide which one to select for your project.

GIF

What is a GIF?

GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Developed back in 1987, it is an image compression format designed for making small files that can be sent over the internet quickly. You can have either a static GIF (which is a single image), or an animated GIF (which contains many images that play in sequence).

BSA animated banner ad 728x90 gif vs flash

File size

An animated GIF file is a lot like a roll of movie film, each frame containing a different image. The more frames you have, the larger the file size. For example, one frame of a 728 x 90 pixel leaderboard ad averages between 3 KB and 75 KB. The large variance in a frame’s file size depends on how detailed and complex the graphics in the image are and how many colours you include.

Solid colours

The GIF format is best suited for images containing large areas of solid colors. This is due to the fact that GIFs can only contain up to 256 different colours, making them less useful for photos which choose from a pallet of around 16 million colours. Saving a photo in the GIF format therefore tends to make them looked washed out or grainy.

Simple animation

Though it’s possible to make a GIF file that is akin to a short silent movie, a simple slideshow style animation (say three still images that show for two seconds each) is a more economical usage of the GIF format due to the cumulative file size each frame adds.

Compatible across the board

One of the greatest features of the GIF format is its wide compatibility across different web browsers (i.e. Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari) and devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets). Part of the reason for its widely accepted compatibility among devices is simply due to the amount of time that it has been in use.

Simple clicking

There are no fancy button hover animations, video or audio integration for the GIF format. Clicking anywhere on the ad will go to one link. This is fine for many cases, but puts a hard stop on more creative and interactive elements in your ad.

Flash

Flash is a combination of the words ‘future’ and ‘splash’, a new name that replaced ‘FutureSplash Animator’ when MacroMedia acquired the company that originally developed the software.

Interactive Elements

Clever and ‘Flashy’ interaction with users is where the Flash format shines. Here are a few highlights of what Flash brings to the table:

  • Animated objects
    Buttons and other objects that move, change size, glimmer or otherwise animate.
  • Video
    Clips of video can be added to Flash files as well, but their larger file size makes them easily march over the generally low limit that advertisers allow. Some advertisers however have larger allowances for streaming video, which keeps the initial file size down for quick page loading and allows people to start watching your video as it downloads.
  • Fly-outs
    Fly-out ads grow larger and change shape when you move your cursor over them, giving you more surface area to advertise on. This type of ad can be annoying and distracting when it pops up unprovoked, but when used tastefully and respectfully, is a creative way of expressing your brand.
  • Audio
    Music and sound effects can be added to Flash elements, permitting the advertiser allows these elements and you pay close attention to the file size of the clip (hint: using streaming audio for your ad is a way to keep the initial file download size minimal)

Small file size – Potentially smaller than GIF

Flash is a little different than GIF files when it comes to file size. While a GIF file stores each frame as a separate image, Flash stores the images in the ad only once. That means the file size on a Flash file can be substantially less than an animated GIF file, especially when animation over many frames is involved.

Flash compatibility

One large caveat with the Flash format is that the majority of portable devices, including smart phones and tablets, do not support it. This is an important point, as a huge majority of web browsing is now carried out on these mobile devices. For that reason, its good practice when creating an ad using Flash to have a backup GIF version of the same ad that can be shown to these mobile device users. This backup version may lack the same luster of your Flash ad, but will still get your message across.

The Bottom Line

Both the GIF and Flash formats have their place in the current landscape of digital advertising. Flash files present a potentially more premium experience for desktop computer users, employing clever animation, video and audio. GIF files, while being simpler, are also more compatible. They can infiltrate most mobile and desktop devices, treading ground that Flash ads cannot.

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