John Brash, Founder and CEO, Brash Brands

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On the appeal of Dubai brands and the city as a creative centre

To what extent does the branding industry, particularly in tourism and retail, in Dubai mirror the ups and downs of the broader economy? 

JOHN BRASH: Marketing and branding budgets have always faced challenges in difficult times and benefitted from periods of prosperity – this has been the case in every market and every era.

Dubai, however, is different, as it has been working towards a more diversified economy over the past 10-15 years, which has created a demand for branding that has helped it to rise above the cyclical ups and downs in the economy.
Tourism and retail are key components of diversification and growth, and therefore are at the forefront of some of Dubai’s most innovative branding. For example, holding company Meraas has accompanied its retail side with a stylish and modern branding campaign. We have also been increasingly focused on destination branding in the UAE, the wider Gulf region and worldwide. Our work with Amaala, a high-end resort in Saudi Arabia, demonstrates that destination, luxury and experience can be combined to create successful branding.

With visitors from India increasing by 7% in the first quarter of 2018, in comparison to an overall 2% growth over the period, does branding need to change to appeal to new markets and different cultures?

BRASH: Dubai companies already represent the change that new markets are looking for. The city has always been incredibly multinational, in terms of the people who live here and its visitors. This diversity has been taken into account by the branding industry. Dubai brands have blended multiple influences to create styles that transcend specific cultures or traditions, creating new approaches that speak to global citizens of the 21st century.
Naturally, there are Arabic influences in many Dubai brands but there are also aspects that draw from China, India, Europe and the rest of the world. This mix of inspirations is what makes our brands unique to Dubai. For example, the Bollywood Parks theme park is marketed in a way that evokes Indian culture but also includes typography linked to the Dubai City brand, delivering a contemporary and global appeal.

In what ways has the Dubai market become more cost-sensitive?

BRASH: After around a decade since Dubai, and many other countries around the world, experienced an economic crash, the market has responded by becoming more mature and level-headed. Brash Brands launched just as this change in the market started to happen. As a result, cost-effectiveness and sensitivity have been an intrinsic part of how the agency works and how we have interacted with our clients for the past 10 years.
What has changed in the wider market is the increased desire to see effective returns on investment, driven by the increased ability to see and analyse this. A few years ago, brands were excited about spending more of their budget on social media, but now they will only continue to do this if they can see it is delivering results and improving their brand reputation. 

How is the increasing cost of doing business and living in Dubai affecting its appeal to those working in the creative sector? 

BRASH: Although 5% value-added tax (VAT) was introduced in January 2018, other aspects of living in Dubai, such as housing costs and trade licences, have fallen recently. There is a complex range of factors that can affect whether companies or individuals wish to set up in Dubai, and financial aspects are not the only factor to influence this decision. 
Dubai is a city on the world stage, blending creativity and innovation in projects such as the Museum of the Future and Expo 2020. This energy appeals to many creative people, and it is likely that they will accept fluctuations in the cost of living in order to experience the possibilities the city offers. As long as these fluctuations remain manageable, Dubai will continue to appeal to creatives.

How well equipped are local graduates to work within the creative sector, and how can the industry work with colleges and universities to enhance Dubai’s talent pool?

BRASH: The industry can play a vital role in offering practical experience to students, which they can combine with the inspiration and development gained from their course to become as fully rounded as possible when they enter the profession as graduates. For example, Brash Brands partners with local institutions, such as the American University in Dubai, to offer four to six internships per year to undergraduates. This helps to give them valuable insight into working for a branding agency and the ways creativity can be combined with commercial objectives.


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