Thursday, August 31, 2006

Overheard on September 3, 2006

'Overheard ' will be an attempt to brush up some of my barely existent cartooning and sketching skills and more importantly to highlight some issues relevant to the region.

Too lazy to use the pen and paper and being not a great fan of scanned drawings, I am doing the 'vector' way in Adobe Illustrator. Who knows, maybe I can invent a particular sketching style out of this ;-)

Some of my earlier experiments with 'vectors' can be viewed here, here, here and here.

More Invitations

Emaar is one of the companies in Dubai who has experimented a lot in terms of advertising, marketing and communications. Which doesn't necessarily mean that they have built up a successful brand image. Almost all of the creative agencies in Dubai, big or small seem to have worked with them and all have them have produced works which are everything from shoddy to outstanding.

During those good old Unreal Estate days in Dubai, Emaar used to spend some big money when it came to product launches. During the launch of Park Island, not their most well known project, a DM campaign was launched which I found particularly interesting.

Potential buyers(NBD customers) received a sleek and elegant box with a message 'Experience the Pleasure of Designer Living'. Men who expected a collecters edition of Playb*y magazine were disappointed to find four bottles of fragrances titled 'Calming', 'Rejuvenating', 'Relaxing' and 'Invigorating'.

Though this was not a path breaking idea, I thought it was a nice touch. Especially, comparing with the rather cold Burj Dubai Black Box with a ruler in it.

The idea of using real objects which can be associated with the projects has been done before. Victory Heights with a good branding platform undertaken by Futurebrand also produced a similar 'boxy invitation' with four objects which represented each of the branding elements.

Aldar's Message in a Bottle

Real-estate companies in Dubai often send out some really fancy invitations to VIPs during project launches. Here are a few I came across.

So there is decorative blue box made of card paper delivered to you which says "Somewhere in the world there's a palace with your name on it".

A map, a magnifying lens and Da Vincique instruction awaits you inside the box.

Unfold the map and if you have a rough idea of where the UAE (and you do not have to be precise at all) is, on a badly vectorised world map; you can find a sentence in small type which says "Mr.Your Name's Palace".

Which makes you wonder why they have provided the magnifying lens, since the type is very much readable. Either they found a compass too expensive or they think by the time you become rich enough to buy an apartment in the Grandeur Residences (and not the whole palace, mind you) you will be too old and half-blind.

I like the personalised 'name' touch. The idea of playing with the filthy rich's ego is not a bad idea in the Middle East. Emaar has done it before with a launch campaign when they announced one of their projects by actually resorting to a customised print of some VIP individuals names on Gulf News wraps. Imagine the surprise when you pick up the morning newspaper and find your name in the front page saying "Dear Mr. Yourname, ..".

Great idea indeed.

The Grandeur Residences' attempt at personalisation fails misreably on the execution front. And the latitude-longitude message, the lens and the almost-antique map seems all too farcical with no real purpose. Which is sad, because the building looks lovely and the rendering house has done a fantastic job in making it one of the most realistic renderings done in Dubai.

Aldar has spent a fortune in the UAE building their brand, ruining it, re-stablishing it and at present diluting it with some project launches with no real co-ordination or synergy. So if they send you a small suspicious looking wooden box, you can either freak out like a paranoid traveller or you can find a paper tag saying "The Gulf's Most Spectacular New Address" reassuring enough because you have heard that line a more than 100 times before.

Believe me, the agency has taken the extra-mile to make sure there is some originality to the whole process of opening the box, untying the rope and spending half an hour in trying to take out the small piece of paper tucked inside the bottle.
I don't reckon this message in a bottle will make your day but it is definitely interesting enough to make you attend another of those beach front property launches.

Carrying that box along is not advisable though.

Coming up: Emaar takes to a different kind of bottle

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Jumeirah and all that Burj

When it comes to a company which own the likes of Burj Al Arab, Madinat Jumeirah and The Emirates Towers, cutting the 'International' out of it's name and acquiring a new identity does not come cheap.

$8 Million to be precise.

The expectations could have been enormous, but I thought Gregg Sedgwick did a decent job in developing the new identity. Consolidating the Jumeirah brand especially when considering the larger-than-life projects were already well-established was never going to be easy.

So is the Burj Al Arab really too big to do any marketing? I decided to find out.

If you are one among the lucky few who has got hold of a Burj Al Arab Brochure or managed to have a good look at it (it is said that only a few copies were printed and a reprint is highly unlikely) you will wonder if you are 'that' lucky.
There is some great photography and lots of gold, but nothing to suggest that you are reading about an architectural wonder or that it costs 250 Dhs just to have a close to look at it. The opulence in the photos itself is a bit hard for the eyes, which is probably why the creative agency decided to avoid more design elements.

I was never a fan of the Burj Al Arab logo (which reminds me of the belly of a clumsy pregnant woman). The copy is a bit flowery too, understatements not being the norm in this part of the world.

All said and done, no amount of advertising can beat a Tiger Woods playing a tee shot or an Andre Agassi vs Roger Federer on the hotel helipad.

I am taking a look at the Madinat Jumeirah and a few other high profile projects on how they do their marketing, how they send VIP invitations and the thought processes behind it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Of Kingsize Brochures And Glossy Papers

Brochures produced by some Dubai based companies are fascinating to look at. That is if you can manage to hold a 45 cm x 32 cm brochure weighing not less than 4 kg long enough to have a good look at it, before it breaks your bones and blinds your eyes.

In Dubai, creativity does not get you further than your creative directors trash bin. Even if it does, once it reaches the clients meeting table it is trashed away followed by the eternal question being asked in Dubai more often than not- "Where is the Big (and Flashy) idea?"

So when Fortune Promoseven was briefed by Emaar to create a brochure for Dubai Mall and Burj Dubai, they pretty much knew what 'needs to be done'. I am sure many will be impressed 70 pages of stock photographs of models( I swear you can see more models appearing in FTV for one whole month) mixed with a dozen ice-cold 3-d renderings and some very inspiring copy like 'Dubai - City of Dreams'. Half a million well-spent.

But where is the brand?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dubai women create history

Keralites might not be the most popular people in Dubai, but a group of 10 Dubai-based women certainly is, in God's Own Country after they won the legendary Alleppey Boat Race.
Looking fairly comfortable in the traditional 'mundum neriyathum', the women, mostly expatriates settled in Dubai won the women's race event after a tight finish.

The team is composed of members of the Dubai-based Mountain High Adventure Club. A participant, Sharon Codyre said "We had to row very hard. At one time, I felt we would be overtaken. And we won in split seconds. It was the most exhilarating race I ever participated."

Photos/Info Via Sepia Mutiny and

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Sand Lovers

There was this little poem which appeared in a poetry appreciation book which I had in school that got stuck in my mind ever since.

I wonder if this makes sense to you as it did to me(with a bit of experimental typography from my side).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

From the Gardens to Ibn Battuta

How would you describe a company whose portfolio looks like fantasies of an overambitious kid in the Dubai Monopoly game. Despite $30 Billion worth of projects under construction and some unabashed Dubai Government backing and facilitation, Nakheel has never managed to break away from the shackles of internal squabbling, bureaucracy and the seemingly unending shadow of its rogue little brother's marketing expertise.

So when Nakheel was busy putting the Dubai on the Map(and vice versa), little brother Emaar ran away with all the applause for its matchbox properties near artificial lakes and golf courses - thanks to the entrepreneurial skills and vision of its Chairman, Mohamed Al Abbar.

Futurebrand was hired to resurrect Nakheel as a recognizable brand and were successful to an extent in doing so as they did for Emaar. Aided by limitless marketing budgets and extensive outdoor advertising, people in the UAE finally got to know the company behind all those ‘funny-shaped islands’. But for the international community, Nakheel was still ‘the palm company’ or a sometimes a virtual non-entity as they thought Emaar was behind all projects that happened in Dubai.

Nakheel always had a problem with positioning and associating themselves with their projects. The paranoia they have for negative publicity has lead them to fire their PR agency, Hill & Knowlton and using government influence in forcing the UAE media to refrain from publishing articles against their projects.

How the Gardens Mall became Ibn Battuta Mall
When Nakheel embarked on a unique shopping mall project themed on the travel routes of the a 13th century traveller, they could have got it terribly wrong again; had they gone with the name of ‘Gardens Shopping Mall’ and positioning it as just another mall which made peoples eyes light up the minute they hear names like the springs, meadows, gardens, lilies and all things Keats in the sandlands. Fortunately, someone (apparently from the PR agency itself) had far more foresight and the mall was renamed Ibn Battuta Mall. Not that easy to pronounce and wild theories of people actually thinking IBN is some software company tying up with a local guy fondly called ‘Battuta’ to build a big shopping mall – the name did take them a long way in positioning the brand as it ought to be.

Here are some photos which reflect the architectural details of the mall. Callison Architecture,
Dewan Al Emara
and a host of other consultants has done a great job in going a level above a mere imitation.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Conspiracy Theories and Photoshop

When you are trying to prove a point too hard, the lines blur between mere speculation and methodical analysis. So when the analysis go against your estimate, some resort to dirty tricks to push the case further.

Like this website, which attempts to make an expert analysis of a Reuters photo which shows three missiles from an Israeli warplane. From the very same photographer, Adnan Hajj who digitally manipulated his photo to add some 'punch'. Fair enough, you have reasons to suspect all his photos to be manipulated in the same way. So the PS experts of MyPetJawa takes the photo and analyses the photo up close pixel by pixel. And what did they find? They do not match. Which means they are 3 different flares. Now thats not fair is it? So they create another magnified image, this time with three identical flares (hoping nobody will notice - afterall how many of you know Photoshop and even if you do, how many of you will take the trouble to make such lengthy pixel-bypixel comparison to prove that a discredited photographer has one photo which is genuine?) and concludes that the image is manipulated. Another expert even does a matte difference check to add to the speculation.

First things first. The original photograph submitted would normally be, say a 300 dpi 6000x4500 image which the Reuters website has converted to 72 dpi - 350x 232 pixels for the web. This essentially means that this resized low resolution image is not fit for such analysis.

Secondly, to manipulate the resized image to suit your conspiracy theory is criminal. I might be wrong and the photo may have been manipulated afterall. But until we have conclusive proof, it is not wise to take such theories into consideration.

Update: Now Reuters has confirmed that the flares were indeed manipulated. Thanks to Sam for the link. However I am not convinced that such a conclusion could be drawn from the low resolution jpegs posted in the Reuters website on technical grounds.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Finding Hammour

Looks like the not-so-tasteful Found Nemo! joke has caught on in Dubai as well - but with a twist. I was quite surprised to see a teaser ad resembling a Finding Nemo poster with a a slight modification in the title. Nemo was ofcourse missing and the title said - Finding Hammour. How imaginative.

Anyone knows about the ad Im talking about? I have to click a picture next time I see it.

Update: Apparently, this execution was done earlier by Saatchi & Saatchi and won a Cannes Gold Lion in the direct marketing category. The Dubai version as I later found out is done for Burger King whose 'originality' has won them an award for branding excellence in the UAE.
Looking forward to scan of the ad in UAE Creatives.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Emirates Towers - Photos

They must be the oddest couple on earth. Depending on the location from where you are looking at The Emirates Towers, they seem to share anything from a cold distant share to a warm union.

Despite the not-so-cost-effective idea of using a triangle as the architectural design base and it's similarities with another structure , this building never ceases to amaze me. The sense of geometry and style becomes evident as you explore each and every corner of this unique Dubai landmark. Some photos I took on such a visit can be found here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Monopoly Dubai Edition - Beta release

So I finally got somewhere making Monopoly Dubai Edition. As SD said, it is quite impossible to classify Dubai in terms of streets, because they are either unheard of, or they are just called Street 100 A, 100 B etc. Besides my familiarity with the places in Dubai is often limited to the mega projects which will get completed in the next 50 years.

I am also trying to put in a little trivia about each location. Hopefully I will learn something new after completing this dubious excercise.

Naif Road
For a while, I thought Naif is actually ‘knife’ which a gentleman living in Dubai for the last 35 years failed to contradict. Later I found that it actually means “mess” in Dublish (Nah, not the Dublin one).

As a spurned lover would say, “You made my life a Naif Road” is a perfect way to end a tragical love story.

Hor Al Anz
My ignorance of Arabic and the local places continued, because the taxi drivers mislead me into thinking it was “Hor lands”. This time I didn’t ask them the spelling.

To be continued..