It’s risky for a non-American to begin a blog with a US sports analogy. But, having crossed the pond from London nearly ten years ago, I finally feel ready to take the leap.
Recently, I took my first trip to Dubai―perhaps the best known of the seven emirates that together make up the oil rich nation of United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Getting to Dubai from the Rocky Mountain region involves a couple of layovers and nearly 15 hours on an airplane. Maybe it was because I’d just watched the movie about the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, but arriving in Dubai gave the sensation that I’d traveled through time (and that’s not solely due to the 11 hour time difference).
Transported to the year 2085 but still strangely familiar―this is the feeling when you arrive in Dubai, your first impression. It’s as if a collection of nations cobbled together a few trillion dollars to build a new, idyllic capital (no doubt driven by a large British contingent in search of more sunshine).
Brands Matter in Dubai
If you are a brand with even the slightest global aspiration, Dubai matters.
You are first struck by the seemingly disproportionate number of luxury car brands driving down Dubai’s immaculate five-lane highways, passed the gleaming campuses of Emirates Airlines. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the latest Fast and Furious movie, Furious 7, was filmed a 45-minute drive away in neighboring Abu Dhabi.
The sheer number of familiar brands gives a feeling that you’ve arrived in a real-life future iteration of Logorama, the animated Oscar winning short where familiar brands experiment with new twists.
Have you ever dreamed of living in a crystal encrusted apartment? Swarovski has partnered with a local property developer to build Sparkle Towers aimed at “style-sensitive residents and visitors who seek nothing but the very best, and elegance is not only appreciated but demanded… going beyond luxury to perfection.”
But, it’s not all about the bling. Want to get your windows tinted while shopping at the mall? Pop into the 3M retail kiosk and they’ll take care of it.
Dubai is a place where certain domestic brands―those not traditionally thought of as global players―compete on a level playing field. Having lived in the UK, Canada, and the US, choosing between Costa Coffee, Tim Hortons, Second Cup, and Starbucks was an exercise in overcoming analysis paralysis (the solution was to drink more than one coffee each day).
For lovers of department stores, Dubai is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to a chocoholic as Harvey Nicholls (one of London’s most famed stores) and Galeries Lafayette (a well-known Parisian retail destination) stand shoulder to shoulder with Bloomingdales.
In Dubai, you can tint while you shop
Easier, though equally surprising to witness, was deciding between Olive Garden, Wagamana, Carluccios, and Applebees for a casual lunch.
Walking around Dubai, and noticing a distinct lack of local flavor, contributes to a feeling that you are wandering through a nationless state; one built to showcase the finest there is―in terms of design and architecture.
The sense of familiarity is accentuated by a dearth of local brands, with Emirates Airline as the region’s only true global player. Ironically, a recent study by YouGov, the first Home-Grown Annual Brand Index rankings, recognizes two shopping malls, Dubai Mall (#2) and Mall of the Emirates (#9), as brands in their own right in its top ten.
If Apple were an NFL team, few of us would argue its status as the World Champion Super Bowl winners. Dubai’s position as a neutral playing field where any brand worth its salt looks to showcase its talents in front of a wealthy audience would make it a worthy contender to host the Pro Bowl of brands. Hawaii’s status as the traditional home of the all-star match is likely to remain safe for a few years yet, but with Dubai’s astronomical rise, I wonder what odds you’d get for putting a dollar today on Benjamin Brady throwing a touchdown in Pro Bowl Dubai 2035?