Canadian startup Neuranet rethinks responsive ad design

New platform makes designing cross-platform HTML5 ads a cinch     Check out the latest AD-Vantage news, features and columns. Subscribe today Learn more about AD-Vantage Toronto-based tech startup Neuranet has officially launched its Flexitive design suite, designed to give marketers a quick and easy way to design cross-platform HTML5 ads without weeks of training. […]

New platform makes designing cross-platform HTML5 ads a cinch

A Flexitive HTML 5 ad on various mobile devices. Click to see a re-sizeable version.


Toronto-based tech startup Neuranet has officially launched its Flexitive design suite, designed to give marketers a quick and easy way to design cross-platform HTML5 ads without weeks of training.

Designed with simplicity in mind, all it takes to create an ad is an image, some text, a little dragging and dropping, and out pops a URL ready to be fed to an ad server for a mobile, desktop or cross-platform campaign.

Flexitive is brainchild of Paul Vincent, an ad ops veteran who spent seven years at Microsoft with stints at Postmedia, Canwest and chairing the IAB ad operations committee. For the past decade, Vincent has envisioned a more flexible, intuitive paradigm for creative ad design, which does away with fixed ad sizes and device-specific creative. He feels both advertisers and publishers need to stop thinking in terms of mobile versus desktop, and realize that screens are already everywhere — on our computers, phones and tablets, but also on our TVs and game consoles, in our cars, in stores, and even on billboards we pass on the highway.

Vincent says advertisers need to think about all these screens when they develop creative, and they need an all-in-one implementation that works for each of the many kinds and sizes.

Many creative agencies are already using tools like Adobe Edge, Tumult Hype and Google Web Designer to build HTML5-based responsive creative that can scale for mobile and desktop devices. But Vincent wants to take HTML5 a step further. “The responsive design movement that we’re seeing at the moment is very first generation,” he says. “It’s a stepping stone.”

In 2013, he began working on a slim, user-friendly HTML5 editor that’s completely agnostic to the size and type of device the content will be displayed on. That way, a marketer only needs to design a horizontal banner once, and it will look the same whether it’s shown on a tablet, laptop, point-of-sale touchscreen or 4K television.

Vincent says that kind of solution is necessary, since screen resolutions are growing so rapidly. If the ad industry sticks with standard ad sizes like 468×60 and 300×250, it will have to update its standards every three years to keep up with bigger and bigger screens. Better to make ad formats relative, based on aspect ratio, rather than pixel dimensions.


This year the company launched its cloud-based design environment, Flexitive, which can be used to build responsive ads, content or websites. Within the platform, a creative director can see exactly what an ad will look like as a banner, square ad or screen takeover, using a 3-panel layout for the three most common ad shapes. It also works on mobile, so you can see what a smartphone or tablet ad looks like while you’re building it.

At the moment, Flexitive’s core userbase is actually publishers – especially legacy media looking to get a quick leg up in digital. Using templates, publishers can design a cross-platform multimedia site in a few hours, with no coding required. Vincent says it was important to make the platform accessible to designers who don’t have much development experience, so publishers can pivot to digital without bringing on expensive training resources and specialized staff. Since Flexitive is a software-as-a-service solution, it doesn’t require any setup or extra computing power.

Flexitive has a built-in content management system, which can be a feature or a drawback, depending on the client. It won’t work with WordPress or other common CMSes, so forget layering Flexitive design on your existing website infrastructure. But on the other hand, Flexitive’s CMS operates on the revolutionary principle that there should be no distinction between “content” and “backend.” Every page on a Flexitive site is directly editable; just click the “edit mode” button and start typing or moving images around. The CMS is itself responsive, so scaling the browser window will make various mobile and desktop site versions visible for editing.

CTV's standard website on a 4K screen

A Flexitive HTML5 site on a 4K screen

Vincent claims ads served to a Flexitive site are 100% viewable, because it only makes an ad call to the server once the frame is in-view. Off-screen ads are never served or loaded, so no one pays for them. HTML5 also makes animated ads much less of a hassle – video doesn’t require a video player, and will progressively download and autoplay once it’s sufficiently loaded, all without a progress bar or buffering icon. So an animated banner ad looks and behaves exactly like a jpeg image, except for the smoothly animated video in the background. (If you’ve seen any interactive articles by the New York Times, it’s the same seamless background video.)

The product is still in its beta phase, and Neuranet has a few kinks to work out. The company is currently running trials with publisher clients, and is looking for an ad server partner so it can start taking on agency clients. So far Neuranet’s team of 11 is mostly developers, and it hasn’t yet received any venture funding, though Vincent says a funding round is being planned for this summer.

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