Kipp’s healthcheck on Arab brands’ global ambition

A handful of Gulf brands are looking to establish themselves globally. How they are faring? 

“We used to think that you couldn’t be
an Arabic brand if you wanted to go international,” says Hermann
Behrens, CEO Middle East of branding consultancy The Brand Union. “But
there is now momentum behind Arabic brands that are investing in major
markets. I don’t think that stigma is there anymore.”

Just a
few years ago, you could reasonably have claimed that Qatar-based news
network Al Jazeera was a global brand. In 2004, it was named one of
Interbrand’s top-five brands in the world, beaten only by Apple,
Google, Ikea, and Starbucks. That recognition, however, was based
mainly on notoriety because Al Jazeera was the network of choice for
Osama bin Laden whenever he decided to release a video to the world.
There was little or no branding strategy behind it.

“It was
a very sensationalist form of branding in terms of perception and
getting into the news,” says Behrens. Which may explain why it dropped
off the international radar almost as quickly as it appeared on it.
Other Gulf brands, however, are set to make a longer-term impact on the
international scene. Companies like Emaar, Emirates and Jumeirah are
setting the pace.

“There are now a handful of brands in the
Middle East with truly international ambitions,” says Eliot Polak,
founder and CEO of Text Appeal, a UK-based cross-cultural marketing and
advertising consultancy which helps brands – including Dubai-based
hotel-management company Jumeirah – internationalize their marketing
communication strategies. “The list is not very long, but I suspect it
will continue to increase as time goes on and we’ll see other brands

But with regional companies – as has been well-documented – being
comparatively new to the discipline of branding, and coming from a
relatively uncompetitive market, traditionally dominated by
family-owned monopolies, they face a daunting challenge if they are to
compete with the great global brands.

Emirates airlines is
heralded by most branding experts as the most successful brand to
emerge from the Arab world. “Emirates is definitely the flag-bearer of
global brands coming out of the region,” says Behrens. Indeed, many
speakers at this year’s Dubai International Advertising Festival cited
Emirates as the one regional brand that could already be considered

But Emirates’ divisional vice-president of
corporate communications, Mike Simon, disagrees. “I don’t think we are
a global brand,” he says. “We are a global airline, but being a global
brand means if you say, ‘Emirates’ to someone in Illinois, or Barnsley,
or Copenhagen, or Timbuktu, then you get immediate recognition of what
you do. Like Coca-Cola, or Pepsi, or Yahoo. We are not at that stage
yet. But we are on the way.”

There is no great secret to
Emirates’ success, Simon insists. “It’s just a pure classical marketing
campaign,” he says. Whenever the airline is poised to open a new route,
it stages a road show in the new destination, with journalists, travel
agents and potential customers invited. PR campaigns follow, with more
journalists invited to fly the route. “Then, about three months before
[the flights start], we start the advertising campaign, the Web sites
and outdoor as well,” says Simon. “Then we have more PR, then we follow
up with more advertising and if we’re lucky we find some interesting
sport or activity to sponsor.

“We’re not pulling up any trees or rewriting the book,” he continues. “but we do it pretty well.”

like that, it sounds fairly easy, but don’t be fooled. For one thing,
Emirates has an impressive budget to put behind its attempts to break
into new markets. Simon says the company spends three percent of its
total revenue on corporate communications, which – based on 2006
figures – would mean a budget of around $255 million, half of which
goes on PR and sponsorship. It currently sponsors four World Cups:
rugby, cricket, horse racing and football. That’s the kind of
investment most regional brands are unable to match.

It also invests time and effort in researching each market before it enters. This,…