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It’s time for everybody’s favorite Flash Email update once again! It’s been a few years since we took a long, hard look at Flash Email, the promises of those pushing Rich Media technologies and those pesky little things like “Email Clients” or “Firewalls” that seem to get in the way.

The short of it.

Flash email is still very much an Enterprise-class solution at this point. There are a lot of marketers who say they can design it. There are many who say they can send it. But very few can guarantee that any large group can view or interact with it. Seriously, this author tested almost every demo, sample, preview or other “test” he could find and could not find a single instance where their Flash content showed up 100% correctly in my normal, everyday use, email client(s) (Outlook 2000 – 2003 and several web-based email clients as well).

Nada. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. I received garbled content or “alternate” content such as links, static images or .gifs.

So, as you can plainly see&ldots; most of the providers who claim to be able to specialize in Flash Email, are really just specializing in delivering alternate content. Anyone can set up a “best case” scenario as a demo.

Know you Recipient.

Now, I am not saying that these providers are not returning value for their customers. However, for the average developer, designer or businessperson who wants to utilize Flash Email in some capacity, it really is not all that simple. It’s just that some of these businesses are touting their Flash Email solution as foolproof and throwing around the phrase “99% of all recipients have Flash” as meaning that 99% can receive your Flash Email message correctly in their email client.

The following is a quick run-down of a Flash Email test we did, with an enabler that delivers alternate content (GIF Image) if the user could not display Flash. We sent it to 26 Different Email clients that we have here in our “lab”, and here are a few of the major email client results:

All email clients were set to receive HTML Email, Windows XP Professional SP2. Latest version of Flash installed.

Outlook 2003:Blank Email + Warnings
Outlook 2003:
( No Firewall or Anti-virus)
Alternate content
Outlook 2002:Blank Email + Warnings
Outlook 2002:
( No Firewall or Anti-virus)
Alternate content
Outlook 2000:Raw HTML Code + Warnings

Netscape Communicator 6.2
( No Firewall or Anti-virus) :

Alternate content
Netscape Messenger 4.72:
( No Firewall or Anti-virus)
Raw HTML Code + Warnings
Yahoo Webmail:What email? Network must have killed it.
Hotmail Webmail:Nope, nada, zip, zilch. Completely Blank Email Received.
Horde Webmail**:See above.
Squirrel Mail Webmail***:See above.
AOL 6.0:Encoded as MIME. Attached at bottom. Does not open.
AOL 7.0:Never received.
AOL 8.0:Sorry.
Eudora 5.0 & 6.0****Nothing.

And this is just one person’s test on the subject. There are a ridiculous amount of variables that can come between you and having the flash email work out. Some of these issues include: Security settings, restrictions in your browser, anti-virus, firewall, ISP’s firewall, email client, operating system or any number of third party software you may have installed along the way (Email forwarding, SPAM blockers, Dynamic DNS, etc.) The point is that even under very controlled circumstances, it doesn’t work out very well.

Doing it Right.

That doesn’t mean you should do a wholesale abandonment of Rich Media email, campaigns or other marketing ideas. What more and more companies seem to be doing is a bit of a hybrid approach to their Rich Media email and this is where designers and developers can help their clients by thinking more about the message rather than the medium.

Many of the best practices that we put forward in our first column, Flashing your Email (2001) – seem to have been copied and adopted extensively by Email & Flash Email marketers, kudos to you! Just go a google search on “flash email” – and see how may lists of 10 seem to crop up with the same practices. If you are designing for Flash email, consider the following:

Use an action to start the Flash Email

Preview panes, Outlook alerts or any other little email client quirks will either

1) Start playing the email immediately

2) Not only start playing it in preview mode, but play a simultaneous copy when you open the email (Becomes a wall of noise., that’s a bad marketing message)

3) Start playing, only to have the recipient notice it and then miss ½ the message to begin with.

A simple “Click here to play this message” can go a long way to preserving your messages intended delivery.

Animated Gif + Click through to Flash = Effective.

Nothing can replace the value of a well though out and effectively designed dual HTML Email & Text Campaign that combines Flash elements. Why not try an eye catching animated .gif file that has a “Call to Action” to let your recipient click through to your website? That should be the whole intention correct?

Track it. Study it. Improve it.

You should not limit yourself to just tracking the opening of the email or the click on an HTML Link. Flash MX 2004 allows for easy tracking of interactions within your flash files, or grab a copy of something like APT Launcher which aggregates data for you for larger projects. If all of your clicks are coming from the HTML, that is one thing, but some data points I would insert for tracking or more “blunt” metrics I would look for would be:

1) When did they get bored enough to stop the flash. (“Hmm&ldots; I don’t want to refinance)
2) When did they get interested enough to click through (“You had me at hello&ldots;”)
3) Did the Flash file start correctly? (Place a data point that starts when the flash successfully plays.
4) How far did the Flash file play before it stopped/quit/crashed/etc? (Put lot’s of data points)

Stop trying to close the deal in the email.

No one completes a sale within the email; no one fills out a mortgage/insurance/request for heartburn medicine or whatever the new “thing” is, so quit trying to design your emails to do so. You WANT them to click through to the website where all of your normal & “stable” actions and events “should” be. Certainly if you’re even thinking of investing in Flash or HTML Email – it is because you’ve already turned your website into a lean, mean revenue or lead generating machine.*

You do this because:

  • The Flash movie will play perfectly.
  • The contact and order forms are all set up.
  • The data collection devices are in order.
  • Nothing is left up to chance or a recipient’s email client.
  • Nothing will “trash” the recipient’s computer or garble the message and associate you or your client’s brand with doing so.

[Editor’s Note: Why is it that the only thing that does seem to get through unscathed IS the logo or corporate url – like a giant “beacon of blame”. ]

It’s the offer silly.

Yes, “duh”, you know this I’m sure. Quit annoying your recipients with silly, boring, inane stuff. You can only make the word “Mortgage” stand out so much against the backdrop of everyday life.

Our most successful Flash email campaign was an animated .gif driven push to our site using a viral game as the “offer”. “It’s not in the Contract” – which was presented as follows:

  1. A Dual Text/HTML Email sent from Constant Contact, so that the recipients either got the animated .gif email I described above, or a simple text email to tell them about the game.
  2. We designed the game so that it was NOT intended to be played in the body of the email. You cannot control the recipient’s email client, nor should you try to.
  3. Constant Contact recorded the number of opens, clickthroughs, etc all of the normal metrics you would expect from an email campaign.
  4. The game was played on our website with a forward to a friend feature on the webpage located just under the game.
  5. The Flash file was encoded with our Flash-tracking software to record some internal metrics, as in the number of unique plays, repeat plays, clickthroughs to website, etc.
  6. The coupon code was tied into the order system to flag a discount and further track the sale.
  7. The game itself contained a coupon for a 10% discount and was designed to present our message to the user as they played (Presents branding and the idea that working without a contract loses you time, money profit, etc.
  8. Our normal affiliate system was in place to record cookies and server-side tracking for visits and sales.


  • The game was emailed to 12,890 recipients.
  • 6,879 opened the email
  • 4,990 clickthrough to the game.
  • The email was forwarded 512 times.
  • The game was forwarded from the webpage 217 times to 534 people (multi-email fields)
  • Importantly, the game was played 187,900 times.
  • More importantly&ldots; the game generated 512 sales, 40 new affiliates, a number of new newsletter signups, multiple business partnerships, new clients for services and an all around general feeling of quantifiable success*****.
  • Even more importantly&ldots; the game generated brand awareness and sales that we could not even track 100%. Phone sales, delayed sales, sales through our affiliates and so on.

This is where you need to be if you do not have the resources to employ an Enterprise application for your Flash and Rich Media email needs. Nothing can replace a well thought out campaign, offer or creative piece of marketing. There is no reason why you cannot concentrate more on your time, money and effort on improving your message and offer, rather than taking a more “flashy” approach.

HTML Email Design:

An Introduction to HTML Email

Unnecessary Elements in HTML Email

For more information on troubleshooting HTML Email, visit our article archive here:

Additional links to Flash Email case studies, news, benchmarks or campaigns

Case Study Follow-Up: Flash and E-Mail

Fun @work: Viral Marketing for the Office

*Seriously, if you could hear the sarcasm dripping from my internal monologue.
**This is a common “skinned” web-based email client that is common with a lot of hosting packages.
***This is another web-based email client you will find with web hosts.
****This particular client was running “ChoiceMail” spam filtering.
*****It’s that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you absolutely know something you did worked out successfully, and you didn’t “guess” that it made the phone ring or sales increase.

This Web Marketing article was written by Tom Granger on 3/22/2005

Tom Granger is an HTML email consultant and divides what is loosely known as “”spare”” time between, a Template & Multimedia resource site, and, a CD-ROM & Flash Advertising firm.