The Optimal Information Model
Posted on July 05, 2016

Nawaf Felemban, CEO and Founder of Kasra talks with ArabAd about the unprecedented strides his company has been making in the field of Arabic content through the introduction of Native Advertising. Though the field of native advertising is nothing new, the approach this company has taken has proven to be, anything but ordinary.

What differentiates Kasra from every other similar digital platform operating throughout the Arab world?

Kasra uses data to study trends and learn about readers’ interests. Our content is directed by technology. We write content we know is relevant to readers, which is why we embrace tech and make it a core area of our business. We believe it is the way to revive Arabic content while catering to the needs of Arab readers.

Our research and analytics platform gives us valuable insights to create content around. Some insights agree with the market’s assumptions, such as content that relates to the readers’ day to day life such as how to peel a pomegranate. Other insights however, and against traditional beliefs -such as food content- is well consumed with specific segments of men.

Such data and insights allow us to craft highly relevant native ads we believe provide the best experience for both, users and clients. We use data to link clients to their target segments through content that readers truly care about and interact with.

Native Advertising has always been around. How do you explain its resurgence and success? What has been its impact on the Arab world so far?

True, native advertising has always been around; many experts in the industry believe native ads first appeared in 1951 —Guinness’s infographic on oysters. Native ads are content sponsored by brands that readers enjoy. It is the display ads that are new to the advertising game. They first appeared in 1994. Since then, the web has become littered with display ads. Web pages are now saturated with display ads and now are an annoyance to users, especially when they are irrelevant to their interests, which is why their effectiveness is on a sharp decline.

This gave rise to a new form of advertising that is non intrusive to the user —native ads, which have been one of the fastest growing segments within digital marketing. Native ads by digital publishers, like Kasra, are viral stories sponsored by brands that readers can enjoy. According to Business Insider, spend on native ads in the U.S. is expected to reach $21 billion by 2018.

In the Arab world, we often see only two types of native ads: search native ads, which are, for example, seen as Google search’s top results, and social media native ads, which are sponsored posts that show up on a user’s feed. However, creative editorial as native ads is quite rare, especially in Arabic. At Kasra, we are pioneering Arabic native ads in editorial form. Through our tech, we are able to measure impact on consumers. Brands are excited to work with us because we offer a form of advertising that provides mutual benefit to the brand and the consumer - we use data to link clients to their target segments through content that readers truly care about and resonate with - while delivering impact.

How are you going about using native ads (i.e the various types you offer) and how is that contributing in the growth of Arabic content?

Our only focus is great content —high quality Arabic content that is intelligent, entertaining and relevant. Therefore, our native ads must conform to that format whether in text form or video. Since the company’s inception, we have only focused on native editorial content and made an early decision not to offer any display ads. We believe in growing Arabic content and native ads are a means to that end. Again, native ads deliver client impact while positively contributing to Arabic content.

What can you tell us about the initiative you executed for Souq.com with the ‘White Friday’ campaign? And how do you explain the fact that users can't distinguish native ads, which are camouflaged advertising from actual editorial content?

For Souq’s 'White Friday', we published 10 native ads to raise awareness and excitement about the sale, such as “Things Arabs Do Better” or “5 Mistakes People Make When Buying a New Phone.” The campaign targeted Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt resulting in an eight-fold awareness rise on key messages. In addition, the campaign surpassed 200,000 engagements on social media and readers spent over two minutes on each article. Recently, the campaign was a finalist for the Drum Media Online Award’s Best Native Advertising Solution, along with CNN, ESPN, Vogue, Bloomberg, and others. Kasra was the only non-English media company to be nominated.

Regarding “camouflaged advertising,” we clearly mark that articles are sponsored. Besides, readers are quite savvy. In fact, we had an instance where a reader wrote in the comments section that he spotted the article was a native ad. Another reader wrote back saying that it was a great article, so why did it matter? Along these lines, we actually had dozens of readers writing in the comment section to thank Kasra and Souq for the information in the articles. Done right, native ads add true value - and brands enjoy the positive association.

Don't you think that if publishers start promoting paid/branded content, they risk losing credibility as a source of information?

Not at all if transparency is practiced. Our native ads, which we call Kasra Brand Stories, are clearly marked as sponsored content by the fact that the author’s name and image is the brand name and logo. We found out through research that users appreciated our transparency. As mentioned earlier, in Souq’s 'White Friday', our readers recognised that the articles were native ads, expressed so in the comment section, and in some instances even thanked us and Souq for the valuable content. Last but not least, native ads allow brands to position themselves as value-providing entities, especially if the content is high quality.

What's next for Kasra?

Our data analytics capability is the best in industry, and we will continue to invest in further developing it over the coming years. We invest significant resources in developing proprietary technology to differentiate us from the rest as well as continuously revamping our content, which Arab readers find both relevant and engaging. We also invest in improving the user experience on our website.

As for advertising, we started offering native ads in the form of articles and quizzes, which have been doing extremely well. Recently, we launched branded memes, GIFs, and short videos. In the future, we will continue to expand our range of formats, so that we can better serve our clients by providing a wide range of offerings.