The Packaging of Excess in Dubai

I love what I do, but every so often I see a packaging project that makes me ashamed to be a marketer. One example was this display of “bling” branded bottled waters that I came across when browsing Harvey Nichols at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai yesterday. It makes for a marvelous metaphor for everything that is wrong with this over-the-top enclave on the edge of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. Waste of materials, waste of resources and incredibly tacky design being sold for an exorbitant price (US$68 for a small frosted bottle). And to extend the metaphor, it was clear from the display and the saleswoman’s hovering that this was NOT a fast-moving item – another victim of the recession which, for all the pain it has caused, can at least be credited with cutting back on egregious excess.

Article on the launch of Bling


Another great Mini branding tactic

My friend turned the corner to enter the parking garage and cursed. I looked up and dissolved into laughter. The garage was full, which was a pain, it meant we had to walk a couple of blocks in the Dubai heat, but it was worth it to see another cheeky Mini brand experience tactic. Few brands have grasped the power of experiential branding the way Mini has. The Madinat Jumeirah is one of the most popular destinations in Dubai and Mini has managed to get thousands of brand impressions for the cost of a simple easel sign. More involved but equally effective are the cars the company provides to the hip Media One Hotel as their limos.


Branding as Byzantine politics: the shift from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa

We are accustomed to talk about brands and branding as important symbols and messages of intent and world-view. Sometimes the messages inherent in brand decisions are harder to interpret. Case in point is the sudden change of the brandname of the world’s tallest building. From its very inception a decade ago, the edifice was branded as Burj (tower in Arabic) Dubai and was positioned as the crowning jewel of this free-wheeling emirate from which it took its name.

In 2009, Dubai was hit hard by the global recession, and has been saved from collapse by a massive influx of capital from the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi. The day after the financial agreement was signed, the emir of Dubai announced that the building would be rebranded Burj Khalifa, in honor of the emir of Abu Dhabi and UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Not only did this cause dismay for the hundreds of small business owners who had already sunk money into souvenirs that now had the wrong name, it caused a good deal of speculation among the UAE political elite. On the face of it the rebranding was an over-the-top thank you to the city’s financial savior. However, readers of the political scene here interpolate two other possible scenarios.

In the first scenario, Sheikh Khalifa insisted on the name change in order to humble his rash neighbor and to further his political agenda of pulling the United Arab Emirates into a more tight union with Abu Dhabi at the center. In the second, more cynical scenario, the name change was made by the emir of Dubai as a poisoned chalice for his cousin Khalifa, associating his name and reputation inextricably with the excesses of Dubai, which he has, in the past, vocally denounced. No one will ever know for sure, but in either case, brand is being used as tool of subtle politics.

Burj Khalifa website
WSJ on the opening of Burj Khalifa


Building culture | Building brand: Zappos shows how they are two sides of the same coin, benefiting from the same focus

The New York Times’ recent Corner Office interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos is a timely reminder that great brands are NOT built by executive fiat from the CEO’s office. Instead, they are built by identifying a finite set of core traits which connect and reinforce the actions of a sub-set of like-minded individuals. All too often, the C-suite feels that the simple top-down assertion of the executive vision of the brand is all it takes to get the rank-and-file moving in one direction. Tony Hsieh experience shows that brand excellence comes through continuing dialogue with the whole company AND by making brand “fit” a vital part of the recruitment and hiring process. The result is a strong corporate culture, a dominant brand and a company that is better suited to evolve to meet the challenges of the future.

NYT interview with Tony Hsieh


Google/Nexus One problems another reminder that successful product delivery must be rooted in core brand attributes

Google Nexus One debacle reminds us yet again that failing to consider and deliver against a brand’s core attributes can be damaging, even for (perhaps especially for) a dominant brand. Google has built its reputation for excellent delivery of clean, considered and innovative services that make everyday life easier. The brand is based on instant and informative response. So a product launch marked by poor execution, poor performance and, worst of all, lack of customer responsiveness is not only bad, in and of itself. It is made much worse by the degree to which it stands in marked contrast to the behaviors that made the Google brand a juggernaut. If anyone had forgotten that branding is a on-going and never-ending process, this should be a timely reminder.

New York Times on Google Nexus One


Lady Gaga/Polaroid liaison a bold and brilliant move…provided it can deliver on the promise

This morning’s announcement at CES that Lady Gaga is to become an official spokesperson, creative director and inspiration for Polaroid is a bold and brilliant move by the venerable brand which has been on its last legs, thanks to bankruptcy, bad management, wrong-footing by digital photography and moves away from its core brand ethos. Lady Gaga is an awesome liaison for the brand, representing as she does the kind of dynamic creativity, spontaneous fun and intense visual impact which were at the core of Polaroid’s appeal in years gone by (just consider how many Polaroid-perfect moments are strung together to make the Just Dance video), not to mention a strong connection with the young female demographic which has a high potential for the company’s consumer offerings. To make the association pay-off and have a significant impact on its business, however, Polaroid MUST deliver with high-design, edgy products, services and communications which fulfill the promise that the pop diva’s endorsement implies. If it succeeds the Polaroid brand has the potential to stage an amazing come-back. if it doesn’t the brand may end up worse off than it was before.


Pollan’s Food Rules: Food marketers and their agencies, as well as food eaters, should have a copy in their libraries

Michael Pollan’s newest book cuts through the polemics of the food and sustainability debates by distilling healthy food practices down to a manual of simple and easy to understand guidelines. Engendered in equal parts by his own research and input from the public (notably through responses to his call for rules to New York Times readers published in the NYT Magazine Food Issue) these 64 rules range from the commonsense (#2 Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognize as food) to the sublime (#13 Eat only foods that will eventually rot).

While an important read for anybody who eats, it should also be a required reference for any food marketer that wants to target the urban, upper middle-class buyer, as these rules, or some variation of them, are already starting to inform buying behavior, particularly on the coasts, and this trend will only continue as part and parcel of the sustainability and health debates.

I don’t agree (granted I am biased) with Pollan’s implicit assertion that the very act of packaging and marketing is a damning symptom of non-foodness. But I do agree with many of the communication cues he identifies (#9 Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” and “nonfat” in their names) and think this little book is a great thought starter for marketers and their agencies on how to better and more powerfully communicate the true value their products offer.


Emergence and Social Media: Grokking the conceptual connections that make social media powerful

My age, background and retiring disposition have made it hard for me to “grok” the fundamentals of the new waves of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). But once I made the conceptual connection between the nascent science of Emergence and where social media seems to be heading, its potential is beginning to come into focus for me. This connection was initially established for me by an hour of must-listen radio from the RadioLab website (one of my favorite destinations for mental floss). Initially broadcast in 2005, the program is fascinating in its own right, but it also outlines the conceptual underpinnings of social media in biology and psychology in ways that bring it home in a profound manner.


Andy Goldsworthy: One of the most creative artists of the last 30 years

We have loved Andy Goldsworthy’s work since we first saw images of his sculptures in school in the 80’s. But because so few of his works are permanent, we had only seen images – until yesterday. Imagine our delight when we learned that he had made one of his latest works in our own backyard in the Presidio. “Spire” has all the hallmarks of a great Goldsworthy sculpture, intrinsic to the land, made of the land . Go and see it if you have a chance. And if you don’t have a chance, familiarize yourself with Goldsworthy, an artist with an amazing vision.


Google’s fade-in page an effort to take its brand presentation back to basics

There have been a number of complaints in the cybersphere about it, but I am rather taken with Google’s new fade-in home-page. I think it is an interesting strategy to focus the user’s initial experience back to the basic visual elements of the Google brand, allowing the functional fringe elements to literally fade-in after the first visual impact.