Advertising in Disguise: Can you tell the difference?

By Basel Sayaf

28 July, 2015

The latest trend in digital media is closing the gap between editorial and advertising.


If we ever decided to print out everything on the internet, reading it would take us at least 57,000 years, Cartridge Save predicted back in 2009. One can only imagine how long it would take to read today’s web with its 550 trillion megabytes of data.

Amid this overload of information, it’s no wonder we’ve become highly selective of what we click on, and even fussier when it comes to promotional content. Internet-analytics company comScore found that the average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month, while Solve Media suggests we are more likely to summit Mount Everest than click on a banner ad.

“Most websites nowadays have the same ads in the same places. What happens time after time is that you get ‘ad blindness’ and start avoiding or not seeing them at all,” explains Basel Sayaf, founder of, the first Arabic content amplification solution in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Content amplification is promoting content, be it articles, videos, or infographics, to the largest possible audience – a particularly useful way for emerging sites to create a buzz.

“We set out to solve a problem that every advertiser has to deal with, which is to create continuous Pay-Per-Click (PPC) traffic at an acceptable rate and get their content to new places and audiences,” says Sayaf.

Native ads

To do that, Jubna goes to where the traffic is, and that is large established publishers with huge volumes of daily visitors. It then inserts ad widgets on certain blank areas on their sites.

However, unlike premium or banner ads, which are often devoid of creativity and ignored by readers, those placed by Jubna are known as ‘native ads’.

These ads use the same font size, colour and format as the media on the target platform, hence blending in with the site’s overall design. And because they appear as part of the editorial feed, they are non-intrusive yet unavoidable, which is good news for both advertisers and publishers.

According to research from IPG media lab, native ads are viewed for the same amount of time as editorial content and are much more likely to be shared than a banner ad. This may explain why global spending on such ads is forecast to reach $7.9 billion (AED 29bn) in 2015, from just $4.7 billion (AED 17.3bn) in 2013, according to data from BI Intelligence.

Despite their phenomenal growth worldwide, native ads are fairly new to MENA countries, and their arrival to the region can be largely attributed to Jubna.

“We were the first to run native ads on sites with Arabic content and we even came up with various new ad formats,” remarks Sayaf. “I believe it’s the fastest growing format of online advertising,”

Unfilled spaces

Done well, native ads can considerably increase traffic for advertisers, and at their best, they can go viral. At the same time, publishers serving those ads get to benefit from an additional stream of income.

That said, a large number of Arabic news sites still have white, unfilled spaces throughout their sites, which according to Sayaf, is like leaving money on the table. “It’s like missing a great opportunity to create extra income out of your site.”

He claims that Jubna’s ads receive up to 10 times the Click-Through-Rate (CTR) of standard premium banners, because they are non-intrusive and come right after articles. “We can increase traffic by 1000 or even 2000 percent and create insane exposure for fairly new sites, as many as 50,000 visitors per day from the MENA region.”

Achieving that of course requires a sophisticated plan that includes selecting the most interesting content and creating an ad that makes users click. Then making sure that the advertiser’s pages are user friendly and the content appealing to the widest user segment.

Exponential growth

Since launching in 2014, Jubna has been continuously adding new features and options based on feedback and requests. “As we spoke with new content marketers and advertisers, we learnt a lot about what they needed,” says Sayaf.

“Some of them wanted to promote their social media pages, some wanted to show their logos, and others wanted to be above everyone and were ready to pay more to be highlighted.”

Being the first to offer Arabic content amplification, the Dubai-based company has seen great interest from content marketers and publishers. Today it works with some of the best-known publishers, including leading News & Entertainment sites.

By the end of 2015, Jubna will have designed and integrated a new widget technology that can analyse the content of each page. This would enable the publisher to show ads relevant to the reader’s specific interests, which would consequently serve the needs of the advertiser.

“It’s more than just serving ads; it’s planning the whole journey of the user,” concludes Sayaf. “The bottom line is that we need to make sure advertisers are getting the highest return on their investment.”

Interview conducted by Heba Hashem for Insight Magazine UAE.