The Connect answer

In Advertising, Communicate, Digital, Dubai, Marketing, Media, Opinion, Published journalism on November 29, 2010 at 6:43 pm

The company that sells space on MSN Arabia and Facebook tells us why online media needs representation

Originally published in Communicate, July 2010

Recently, Communicate met up with Mohamed El Sayed, general manager of MSN Arabia, and Mohamed El Mehairy, managing director of digital media representation company Connect Ads. Both men were in Dubai for a Microsoft Summit, where the Microsoft Network (MSN) sells itself to potential advertisers. Communicate hoped they could explain some aspects of the MSN-Connect Ads business model.

In an age of digital directness, it confuses Communicate why there needs to be a middleman involved in the interaction between digital media, such as MSN’s websites, and the clients who spend money on them.

Connect Ads recently took over Facebook’s media representation in the region, even though the social networking site has an easy-to-use interface for advertisers to create their own contextual ads. If clients – or their media agencies – can do that, why would digital media introduce another link in the chain?

Firstly, because MSN Arabia and Connect Ads are sibling companies. “Basically, Microsoft came into the region and said they wanted to create an MSN brand,” says El Sayed. In 2002, Microsoft gave LinkDotNet, a subsidiary of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, a franchise for nine countries in the region, now extended to 15. LinkDotNet’s LinkOnline division runs MSN Arabia; another division, Connect Ads, is the sales house for all LinkOnline properties – including MSN. “We are one family at the end of the day,” says El Sayed.

The second reason for going through a sales rep is that advertisers get access to the choicest cuts of advertising. On Facebook, says El Mehairy, “All the homepage inventory, all the interactive ads, the ads that open videos, that you can share and people can see on your profile, stuff like that is sold by an agent.”

Automated ad-building software is a way to get rid of remnant inventory. “This type of selling, which is called ad network selling, is more or less automated,” says El Mehairy. “Maybe 90 percent of clients or publishers do it on remnant inventory.”
These leftovers are sold as-is. “For example,” says El Mehairy, “if you want your ad to show 100 million times, you cannot guarantee it; you just get what’s left. Anyone paying through an ad agency gets higher priority.”

“The self-serve basis is a way for publishers to monetize some of the unsellable,” he adds.

MSN Arabia is planning to introduce much more social interaction in the next few months, but MSN and Facebook can still play nicely. “Competition is good. Getting people to know what’s up with digital advertising, the whole concept, is something that’s going to benefit all of us,” says El Sayed.
More sites mean more revenue for everyone, he says. “We started with a small doughnut that became a pie, and now we’re trying to make it a cake.”
El Mehairy and El Sayed talk of “return on involvement.” Clients – or at least their agencies – need to be digitally aware enough to understand the measurements and metrics that reps such as Connect Ads are wont to bandy around.

“All the agencies now have a digital representative within their agency,” says El Sayed. “Somebody who really understands, who really talks our language. The conversation was a bit tough in the beginning, but now it’s very easy.”

Digital takes up almost 1 percent of ad spend in the region, says El Sayed. Other estimates put the percentage higher, after discounts on traditional media’s rate cards are taken into consideration. El Sayed admits his estimate is “very minute,” but sticks by it. Mobile advertising might push that percentage up, though.

As well as making its sites more social, MSN will be localizing its content for regional markets. The UAE is the country that spends the highest percentage of its advertising budget on digital. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are picking up, and El Sayed is also watching Lebanon. “I think Lebanon is a very interesting market because of all the content that they have, and the freedom of speech that they are trying to achieve,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it is a big market so much as [an] interesting market.”

Connect Ads must be hoping to generate its own interest in its sites, and persuade advertisers to the best its clients can offer, rather than settling for their scraps.


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