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Flash those baby blues

This article appeared as a ‘Futures’ column in Marketing magazine, Canada’s version of Advertising Age, in June 2002.

I wanted the reader to be thinking of the rich visual motion-oriented environment Flash could make possible.

Since then, Flash has continued to see limited success. I believe much of the reason for slow growth of the technology is because there is so much bad implementation. Sites that are slow, clumsy, and where Flash only gets in the way are far too common. Studies show that even with bandwidth improvements (or maybe because of this), people have less patience than before. Sites need to load faster than ever, and Flash sites typically are the slowest of all.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

“At first, it was pure passion,” she whispered with a silky voice I was still getting used to, her sapphire-blue eyes flashing in the shadows. She leaned forward, glancing around before continuing. “I couldn’t help myself,” she added lustily. “I’d never experienced anything like it. Nothing else mattered. I just wanted more and more of the same.”

Her face slid back into shadow. Silence, except for a sultry jazz tune working its way from table to table as I pondered her confession. Blue smoke curled slowly in the air like the lazy circles she made with her finger in blonde locks flowing to her shoulders.

“How long was the relationship?” I asked. Her eyes drifted away, remembering, then came back to mine.

“It was a couple of years until the magic stopped. After a while I realized my needs were no longer being met. Now I was more concerned about time. I wanted it faster.”

“Faster?”

“Faster or not at all,” she responded. “Ten seconds or less was the magic number for me now. It began to feel so superficial. Meaningless. Maybe I just got bored, but it no longer seemed to be about satisfying my needs. It was just motion and sound for the sake of entertainment.” She downed the rest of her drink in a single gulp. I waved for another round.

I was investigating the disappearance of web animation. What had once been proclaimed the future of advertising on the Internet was now a mere shadow of its original promise. It had all but disappeared from the landscape, especially from corporate or brand-related web sites. Yet there were few answers. Flash designers didn’t think anything had changed. Corporate marketing types didn’t want to talk about it. Nobody wanted to share their experience, or were too busy to give it much thought. Then I found her, someone who valued the ability to interact directly with the brands that mattered to her. We had met in the rain outside the bar and went in without a word spoken.

“I began to resent splash screens and animated intros,” she sighed, leaning back against the hard wooden frame of her chair and twirling a plastic swizzle stick between her fingers. “They no longer seemed honest,” she explained. “All that razzle dazzle. It was too manipulative. It took extra time and seldom added anything of value to our relationship.”

“I no longer cared,” she said. “We saw less and less of each other. I thought the relationship was over. All that mattered was the information. I wanted it fast and simple. Flash was dead for me. Forgotten.”

She suddenly leaned forward and gripped my arm. Hard. Almost hard enough to hurt. “But I was wrong,” she exclaimed passionately. “It’s back!”

That got my attention. She must have noticed the look in my eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper. I strained to hear.

“Flash MX,” she gasped.

A computer monitor throbbed in the corner. She continued. “Just when I thought life was returning to normal, it’s starting again. Flash is back. Now with video. And an application architecture that can give me everything I ever dreamed of in a brand relationship. More interactivity. Database management. All combined with the motion and streaming audio that started it all.”

Flash MX. So Flash wasn’t gone after all, I realized. Just the victim of inappropriate use. Instead of using its power to provide an experience that mattered to the audience, Flash had typically been used as a self-serving instrument that wasted people’s time offering nothing of value in return for their patience. Flash revived. Would it now be used the way it should have been all along? Would it truly enhance the brand experience? Would it make the experience worthy of the extra download time? What would the future hold?

A saxophone wailed its plaintive notes as a drop of condensation slowly traced its way down the side of her glass. Her blue eyes pierced mine, the same question deep within. Have marketers learned? Will it be different this time? Outside the rain slapped at the windows with streaky wet fingers. The waitress brought a new drink.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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