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Going native


Yahoo, LinkedIn and mobile network AdFalcon recently introduced native ad formats in the MENA region. In theory, these formats seamlessly integrate commercial into editorial content. In practice, native advertising sounds an awful lot like – and is often confused with – sponsored and branded content, and even good ole advertorials. We ask the experts: Harvey Bennett, managing director at RBBi; Kavita Dhayni, head of media at Havas Digital UAE; Hussein Freijeh, managing director at Yahoo! Middle East and Africa; Karim Khalifa, CEO of Digital Republic; Ziad Khammar, strategy and development director at Digital Media Services (DMS); Farhad Miah, director at Performics MENA, VivaKi; and Pawan Setpal, director at Clique Media.

What is native advertising?

Ads that are delivered in a format that looks and behaves like the content around it. It is designed to feel less intrusive, enhance the overall user experience and increase the likelihood that a user will interact with the ad – Freijeh 

It could include sponsored tweets, promoted videos on YouTube, sponsored stories on Facebook and even search ads, full-page ads between [social news aggregation magazine] Flipboard pages and sponsored content on websites – Dhayni 

The definition remains largely unconfirmed. Native advertising is any advertising that is able to fit seamlessly and cohesively into the design of the given advertising environment – Miah 

Popular examples are search and social ads [that] look exactly like the organic results, ensuring that the ad is in the reader’s line of sight. When it comes to original media, native advertising becomes exciting as it evolves into branded content, where both the publisher and advertiser collaborate to create paid content – Khammar

Not to be confused with…


Advertorials could be considered a form of native advertising – Setpal 

Native goes beyond advertorial, whether it’s a search ad that appears alongside search results, or [sponsored content that is shown] alongside editorial content, or provides users with suggestions on other content [of their interest] – Freijeh

Branded content

Branded content is when a brand pays a publisher to attach its name to a piece of content that is created by the publisher itself. For the most part, brands do not get a say in the details of that content – Setpal 

Native advertising is the evolution of branded content, whereby the creation of sponsored or branded content is as important as its delivery and reporting. Branded content is currently the best solution to reaching multiple channels, [and] native advertising quantifies the delivery of this content by impressions, number of page views, number of shares, post-click activity and much more – Khammar

Common misconceptions

Expensive and difficult. Wrong:

As with anything, you control the level of depth or complexity. [Similarly], developing a mobile rich media ad needn’t be prohibited by cost. If you want that ad to connect to Instagram, expect the cost to increase – Bennett

Users won’t adopt it. Wrong:

The consumer of today is intelligent and will surely engage with useful content. Brands can be upfront and honest about their content, and consumers will still read and click on it – Dhayni 

In the US, research indicates that there is a big increase in engagement, brand awareness and performance – including a 46 percent lift in purchase intent – for mobile native ads – Freijeh 

If the content is useful, entertaining or informative, then there is no reason for audiences to ignore it. In fact, this allows brands to connect with their consumers and build loyalty – Setpal 

The native ad is as valuable to the user as the primary content with which it is being integrated. The consumption time or the attention it gets should equate or even supersede that of the primary content being consumed – Khalifa 

The ideal approach is to collaborate and create unique content that will be exciting or informative to readers that would want to consume [and share it]. Only original content producers know what their readers want – Khammar

Premium and exclusive to publishers. Wrong:

There are three types of platforms for native ads: closed platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, open platforms, such as Google Adwords, and hybrid platforms – typically through ad exchanges or RTB [real-time bidding] – Bennett

Regional applications

On [cooking portal] Shahiya, DMS produced several video recipes subtly showcasing the use of Al Walimah rice as a prime ingredient in Gulf-specific dishes. Within a handful of posts on dishwashing tips in its blog section, Shahiya also tactfully mentioned Fairy Platinum as a product to use – Khammar 

Yahoo! is working with its clients, such as and Citibank, through [its native ad offering] Yahoo! Stream Ads, across Yahoo! Maktoob on desktop, tablet and mobile –Freijeh

Regional prospects

We’re still very far away from getting this right in our region. Content still tends to be an afterthought here – Setpal 

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Going native


With the increasing penetration of mobile devices in the MENA region, it’s no surprise that the media closest to a consumer is his mobile device.

This high level of accessibility is at the inception of the multiscreen phenomenon – people watch TV with their eyes and fingers on the screen of their mobile device, consuming different types of content simultaneously. This behavior has now evolved into multitasking – people are using their mobiles while reading a magazine, browsing through a newspaper, or while standing on the street and seeing an advertisement.

This creates a big opportunity for marketers to create enhanced and enriched ads. Such ads extend the life span of the advertising message, by turning the ad into an experience through which the consumer can interact with the brand.

For example, Shazam, a music-recognition application, allows users to interact with a brand through a quiz or contest by enabling the app during a TVC. Advertisers insert QR codes in their ads to provide further information and a richer experience to users viewing a print ad. Better yet, augmented reality provides consumers a more immersive experience than a simple poster.

All of these real-life experiences make the brand message more meaningful and have a higher likelihood of transforming a customer into a loyalist or even a brand ambassador.

Native Applications

However, marketers tend to forget that these experiences require applications that consumers need to install on their mobile devices. This is an obstacle for marketers as it makes the journey between the brand message and the target audience longer and more difficult. Brands should ask smartphone manufacturers to think of making these applications native or even embed AR and QR code readers in the mobile camera so that it is easier for a consumer to interact with a brand.

Enhanced Content

However, the fact that these applications aren’t native should not deter marketers. In order to successfully pull off providing an experience, brands should carefully select their targeted audience – consumers that are aware, influential and opinion leaders. They should be the ones who will share the experience on social networks, demonstrate the way it works and influence others to try it themselves.

To sum it up, all brands and marketers, should consider offering richer content to their target audience. Think of harnessing the power of the technology accessible to consumers and use of it to offer the best brand experience – whether it is via QR codes, videos, or augmented reality. Create inspiring hashtags to shape conversations on social media and create virality. Work on making your brand content meaningful and relevant because the richer a brand experience, the higher the level of engagement that follows.

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