Dubai branding: Mars next

How Dubai has promoted itself is an almost unparalleled success story. From a small village in the desert it became a world famous city that is now sending an unmanned spacecraft to orbit Mars. Listen to the interesting story of their ventures into space including the present one that an Emirati woman is heading:

Is there any city in the world that can rival how Dubai through excellent marketing campaigns became a prominent spot on the world map? From nothing it now prides itself to be the place where global businesses meet. It has built some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and is promoted as one of the top tourist destinations in the world.  Not to mention a leading financial center and a thoroughly modern city in the Middle East with the best gender equality in the region. So far the results are fantastic from a PR point of view.

Next step – Mars

What do you do when you have done all that? Dubai’s answer is  to construct and design an unmanned space probe that will orbit the Red Planet for up to four years. By doing so the UAE joins a small group of countries that are active in space and further brand themselves as progressive, modern and forward thinking. The mission is headquartered in the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.

Sarah Amiri, Dubai, Mars mission, Emirates, Catarina Alexon
Sarah Amiri is the Emirati woman heading their current Mars mission

Gender equality

To let an Emirati woman head the project is even better branding for the U.A.E. Enter Sarah Amiri.

Focusing on equality between men and women is not a new phenomena. When I lived in the Gulf “The Three Lubnas” was a popular trilogy i.e. Lubna Olayan, the top Saudi business woman, Sheikha Lubna Al Qarsimi, Minister for Foreign Trade who was previously Minister of Economic and Planning of the United Arab Emirates and my friend Lubna Hussain, NBC Correspondent in Riyadh who also has her own talk show on Saudi Television. Lubna Al Qarsimi send the latter an email about the three Lubnas and how funny it was that women named Lubna seemed to be at the forefront of women’s liberation in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

No matter what you think of Dubai, their marketing success is phenomenal. Cities, and countries, worldwide should learn from them how to create marketing campaigns that transform it to a prosperous and successful place that attracts people from all over the world. An attractive packaging makes a huge difference.

Do you agree that Dubai has been exceptionally successful with their branding? Is a space mission a logical next step? Have you been to Dubai? If so, are you of the opinion that the city lives up to the image their marketing campaigns convey? What do you think Dubai should do to get an even better image? 

Video: The Wall Street Journal

28 thoughts on “Dubai branding: Mars next

  1. “What do you think Dubai should do to get an even better image?”

    If Dubai could somehow solve California’s water problem(s), that would definitely do it.

  2. I’ve never been to Dubai nor do I personally have much interest. I will say that it makes sense for an emerging country to want to join space exploration. It just adds to their public image, if nothing else. I do think that is is great that a woman has publicly been put in charge of the project. I think any attempt towards gender equality is promising for all women though it is best when women reach positions of authority not because of gender equality, but because they were best for the job.

  3. Everything about Dubai smacks of the power of marketing and what money can build. I at once envious and appalled. My cousin has been there twice, but it’s just not somewhere I feel compelled to see. I put it in the category of “I would visit if I won a free trip.” I guess I’m more drawn to places with history, though all that’s been accomplished in Dubai is not without merit; it’s just not for me.

  4. I have been amazed at the success of the branding of Dubai. They have moved in an amazingly short time, from a little known place (at least in the western world) to popular destination. We can all learn something from their approach.

    1. Absolutely, Debra. Countries and cities worldwide should really learn and apply the lesson of "packaging" itself the right way. Judging from Dubai's success it seems the content is not that important:-)

  5. I don’t know if you can say that space exploration benefits anyone in Dubai, but personally I’m glad to see they are doing it I’ve always been fascinated with outer space and Dubai will make a significant investment in it.

  6. Hi Catarina, I've never been to Dubai, or the Middle East at all for that matter. But due to their marvelous marketing campaign, if I was going to travel there, Dubai would be first in my list if pages to visit. What they have done through marketing to transform the little desert town to what it had become is nothing short of phenomenal. I'm sad to hear that the gender equality isn't reality and just part of their marketing. Makes me wonder what else isn't being portrayed accurately.

    1. Susan, Dubai is a fantastic marketing campaign that reality does not live up to. Of course apart from the buildings and so forth that you see pictures of. Shopping at duty free at the airport is also good and cheap. Those of us who have lived there have seen what's behind the packaging.

  7. There's no question that Dubai's marketing has been excellent – taking a small city with few natural resources (the UAE oil is primarily in Abu Dhabi, not Dubai), and making it a global centre for travel (busiest international airport) and one of the fastest-growing financial centres. Having lived there for over 3 years (2007-2010), I have significant first-hand experience of the country.

    In my view, what the city-state still needs to do to ensure it lives up to its image is to put in place a suitable legal structure that enables people, and businesses, to operate on an equal footing. The damage done to Dubai's reputation during the financial crash of 2008-9 when people fled, fearing automatic jail sentences for falling behind on bill payments is still an issue. I also believe that residency issues should be looked at to encourage further investment.

  8. Catarina — I had no idea about the spacecraft to orbit Mars. I have never been to the Middle East but friends have visited Dubai and they feel they are in a fantasy land. Most people know about the indoor ski resort that is such an anomaly in the Persian Gulf. Dubai is an extreme example of "spare no expense." I was pleased to see a woman heading up the space program. But there is great poverty among the foreign workers who are imported for construction work.
    My recent post Why Did Employee Engagement Dip to its Lowest Point in 8 Years?

    1. Yes, Jeannette, there's more to Dubai than the packaging. The indoor ski resort is ludicrous but a good example of what Dubai is all about. But their marketing is excellent. Someone I knew when I lived there changed the name to "u buy".

  9. I haven’t been to Dubai so cannot comment on how it lives up to its marketing. I have a vision of things being larger than life, luxury, business and modern things. I’m not surprised it would launch a Mars mission. What I didn’t know and was glad to read about in your post was the focus on gender equality. It would be interesting to see that promoted more in its marketing.

  10. My husband and I had an invitation to visit Dubai back in 2000 but were ready to head home after a week in Mauritius (love that country) and another 10 days in Egypt. What my image of Dubai is, it is one of the top 20 (maybe higher now) wealthiest cities in the world. So your article Catarina makes me smile that they are both making a Mars mission next AND including women in the project! Awesome!
    My recent post How to Make #Introvert Traveling the Best Experience

    1. Dubai is fun to visit for a short period of time, stay at Emirates Towers and enjoy the best Dubai has to offer. Living there however, you discover that the place doesn't live up to the marketing campaign. Not sure it's one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Abu Dhabi is the wealthy city in the United Arab Emirates (they have oil, which Dubai doesn't). Abu Dhabi bails Dubai out when the latter gets into financial difficulties, notably when the world economy crashed in 2008. The name of the tallest building in Dubai is hence named Burj Khalifa after the ruler of Abu Dhabi. But Dubai really are experts when it comes to making marketing campaigns that brand them in ways desired.

  11. They are done unprecedented things with their marketing. I have few friends that spend time there and love it! I think that it is wonderful, that they are now investing in space exploration! It is one project that will catapult them even further into international awareness!

    1. Yes, their marketing campaigns are fantastic and really work, Jacqueline. Have lived there and hence know the dark sides of the story that are not focused on in their promotions. But most places in the world could learn from them how to turn themselves into a famous international hub. It's all about packaging.

  12. Catarina, I learn so much about the Middle East from your posts and many of my previous perceptions are squashed. I have never been to Dubai but have had young friends who worked there – in compounds – and they always enjoyed their stay.
    One of the things I find fascinating – and again, I had a totally different idea – was the gender equality. We think that people in the Middle East are way behind in this area, when in fact, in Dubai anyway, they are way ahead of us.

    As for the Mars mission, more power to them. It will certainly be another accomplishment to put them even higher on the map. Here they are competing with the ‘big guys’.

    1. Lenie, Dubai is located in the Middle East but at least 90 % of it's population are from developing countries in Asia and Africa. The rest are Westerners and Arabs, including the Emiratis themselves. You actually think you are in India because about 85 % of the population are Indians. Dubai is not doing better than the West when it comes to gender equality. That's just another marketing myth that has worked. The Mars mission is a very clever idea that will further enhance their image.

  13. Yes, of course Dubai has done an excellent job of marketing. I haven’t been there but see scenes from the city frequently. I’m not surprised that they are moving into the space project because that will broaden their influence internationally. Nothing like having plenty of money to do whatever is planned, even if it comes from outside of Dubai!

    1. Exactly, Beth. Dubai wouldn't be what it is today if not for marketing. It was a small place where the ruling family was not doing very well. Sheikh Mohammed went to Harrow with a friend of mine's brother. But they really managed to turn Dubai into a winner.

  14. Yes, I absolutely agree with you that Dubai has been masterful in its marketing. I visited back in 2008 and was amazed at how big and bold everything is when it comes to development and construction. I'm surprised that they're putting all this money into space travel when the UAE hasn't yet completed it's Cultural City project in Abu Dhabi that was in the planning stages when I last visited. I've been planning my return for when that project has been completed. And to me, that seems much more vital than space exploration on Mars.
    My recent post Chocolatour to Hawaii

    1. Yes, Doreen, Dubai is basically a marketing campaign and sending a space craft to orbit Mars is a project in Dubai, not Abu Dhabi. The fact that Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest of all the emirates and have bailed out Dubai when necessary is another matter. It’s Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, that’s behind this project. Besides, the PR value of being in space is much higher than for a cultural city.

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