Shaking up online ad world

The Life: Shahriar Shahabi, owner and founder of, produces short videos that explore an alternative form of marketing which promotes the products while engaging consumers.
Shahriar Shahabi of Big Brand Media, develops engagement strategies between companies, their products and consumers. Pawan Singh / The National
Shahriar Shahabi of Big Brand Media, develops engagement strategies between companies, their products and consumers. Pawan Singh / The National

The dotcom boom fuelled some dream projects for Shahriar Shahabi before the bubble burst at the turn of the century.

The Iranian-Canadian raised millions of dollars for his web-based ventures and sold them at a profit.

When the boom ended, he travelled the world for three years, doing nothing.

"That's one of the luxuries of having money," Mr Shahabi says, sitting at the high table with a cup of coffee at the cafeteria of his new office space in one of Dubai's corporate towers.

From his windowless, one-room office he runs a new company, Big Brand Media, with three 20-something team members. The company's first venture produces video clips on subjects such as lifestyle and health for its web TV.

The two-to-four-minute videos offer a two-way communication, market a product or service for companies, and engage consumers by focusing on value. "Advertisements on the Web do not work," Mr Shahabi says.

"But storytelling on the Web does sell, and consumers believe a third party, and we will get the community involved."

Web-based platforms such as Mr Shahabi's are set for good viewing results as analysts expect the UAE to become a hub for internet-based enterprises.

A report last year from Dubai Internet City and the consultancy Frost & Sullivan said 185 similar ventures would launch from the Emirates each year until 2015.

Big Brand Media targets small to medium enterprises as its clients and three-quarters of their 25 clients are SMEs.

"The Web is so big now and expensive that for SMEs to become visible on web would cost them thousands of dollars, and even multinational companies don't get it," Mr Shahabi, 42, says.

His company has signed up with five hospitals in Dubai Health Care City as well as NMC Hospital. It does weekly shows for its Ezehealth channel. For NMC, it has produced videos on issues such as cataracts, cervical cancer and glaucoma.

"It is a great way for us to connect our super specialists to our patients and potential patients [and] it is a form of 'pull' marketing where patients seek information about us as opposed to the conventional and more intrusive 'push' marketing, such as advertisements," says Nirman Shetty, the president of corporate affairs at NMC Healthcare.

Mr Shetty says one of the key elements to such exposure is to get more content that will drive more visitors that, in turn, will drive more content. has widened its scope by identifying eight topics on which the website features its videos - automobile, gadgets, food, fashion, travel, glamour, decor and health.

Mr Shahabi's clients, such as the hospitals, pay Dh3,500 per episode for a year, which are free for people to view. The team does the shooting, editing and uploading on the Web, besides guaranteeing 50,000 to 100,000 web views in 30 days.

It has already signed up Paris Gallery for its glamour channel, Choithram Supermarket and Department Store for its food channel, and National Paints for its decor section. And it is looking to partner a gym for its fitness channel and airlines for its travel section.

The number of unique visitors to the site has gone up to 2.3 million, with 1.3 million from the Emirates alone, since its commercial launch in January.

So far Mr Shahabi has invested Dh350,000 in the ventures and says bookings have amounted to Dh1 million since then.

He wants Big Brand Media to be a Dh10m company in two years, and to roll out a franchise model.

The company will have a presence in 10 major cities - such as New York, London, Shanghai, Singapore and Cairo.

He is also looking for an investment of US$5m by the end of this year.

With the funding, Mr Shahabi wants to hire journalists and broadcasters to the team.

As a serial entrepreneur who enjoys Dubai's high living standards, he wants to see the evolution of a more entrepreneur-friendly environment.

"We have to create a culture of risk-taking [with] no fear of failure," he says. "We have to move from the culture of consumerism to creationism."

Published: August 19, 2013 04:00 AM


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