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cheQuebook
Why QAtAr neeDs to reBrAnD froM sCrAtCh

culture?

Q

By SInDH U n A I R

atar is taking out its cheque book and importing Tribecca Festival which is an American thing, importing TED which is another American thing. If you are importing all this to make the English and the American people comfortable here, where would you go to experience Qatari culture which is found only here, asks David Omi. It is not difficult to get branding luminary David Omi started on his pet theme, branding. Howoever, not the old school branding we are used to, but one that is in keeping with the trends of today. Which is why he repeatedly emphasises the need for Qatar to communicate its inherent culture. “Qatar as a collective identity, as I see it, is in a hurry to become accepted as a player in the cultural arena,” he says. “I come to Qatar to experience Qatari culture. And Qatar is busy portraying itself as just any other

developed country.” Qatar from the outside, at least to Omi, is all about money and extravagant architecture. “In this age of converging finitudes, when the whole world is talking about containing and sustaining, there seems to be no limit to Qatar’s extravagance. That is antithetical to how the world is feeling. Infinite growth contradicts the law of nature. The same is the case with China, on another level.” If you have to brand Qatar, you have to talk the language of the world, he stresses. David Omi was in Qatar on invitation from grow, the brand communications agency, and brings with him a wealth of experience as a creative director, designer and brand strategist in traditional and new media. He is associated with some of the world’s most prestigious brands and advertising agencies, both in Europe and the United States, including Saatchi and

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Saatchi, Wieden Kennedy, and WPP companies. Sharing his insights with Qatar Today, Omi says: “Everyone is quite tired of it (branding). Almost all have done it. It is now time that brands reinvented themselves and I can see that happening through the advent and growth of social media and the Internet. Branding is now becoming less about virginity, manuals and procedures and more about being able to live in multi-complexity while engaging and associating with other brands.” and human touch, making flying a richer, worthy experience. There are very small and some big things that the air carrier does that makes the process look hassle-free.”

Green branding Omi, who is Executive Creative Director of Sine New York, has been responsible for leading strategic brand developments in leisure markets. Greenhouse 26 was the first ‘green’ boutique hotel in New York City. He talks about his experiThe very beginning ence creating a sustainable “Branding,” he says, “is all about design. making people feel better about “The language of the whole who they are.” interiors is about going back Continuing on the concept of to basics. It is about celbranding and communication, ebrating nature and how naOmi gives examples of brands ture takes back things that is that seem to have understood already created. the basics. The most important “A coffee table, with a thing about a brand is the perbase made of recycled and sonal touch or communication broken wind shields, a Petri and in a way it is about trust dish showing the bacteria too. culture, a table made of reJust because a brand has cycled wood, a bedroom that something to say doesn’t necesis sparse, stairs covered in sarily mean that people are gomoss, chairs mimicking sea ing to listen. And there is a danpods, walls destroyed and ger too he says of brands being framed in glass, are some of self-obsessed. the design features. All of It is therefore important to this represents Greenhouse understand that brands don’t 26,” says Omi with barely live in corporate offices but in concealed passion. the streets and in the minds “You are engulfed by of people. “Branding has to IT Is NOw TImE ThaT braNds nature and it is primitively touch the hearts of people to be beautiful.” successful.” rEINvENTEd ThEmsELvEs aNd On the process followed, So what should be the I caN sEE ThaT he says, “It was all in collabfirst priority when branding haPPENINg ThrOugh ThE advENT oration with the designer, begins? owners and architects.” “The company should first aNd grOwTh Of sOcIaL mEdIa aNd Another milestone in his be clear about what it stands ThE INTErNET career was the branding of for, the essence of the brand,” the luxury fashion house, he says taking the example of Alexander McQueen. He Apple – which is also his fareminisces, “I met Lee Alexvourite – a brand that is all ander McQueen, just before about lifestyle not just about his St Martin’s fashion show, technology. “The company is his graduation show. He was communicating through its a little guy, very smart, bright to the point of being logo, which has a universal appeal.” He then moves on to explain the branding process scary. He knew exactly what he wanted. He was a genof JetBlue, one of the rare success stories of an Ameri- ius tailor. There is no uncertainty with anything that he did. I drew his logo on the back of a cigarette pack can budget air carrier. “If you look at the JetBlue campaigns nothing is and he liked it and that was it. Working with Alexansaid about air travel, while it is all about managing der McQueen was not difficult, he was a lovely man anxiety. As we embark on a journey, there is a tiny bit who knew what he wanted his brand to portray. He of unease that niggles at the back of our mind as we was also very loyal to his close associates.” He ends the interview with his golden rule of are exposing ourselves to a lot of uncontrollable external factors. What JetBlue does through their ad- branding: “A brand’s authenticity and effectiveness vertisements and through their website, through the will ultimately be determined by what it does not language and the imagery it uses, is to give a friendly what it says”

ExPERT SPEAk
braNdINg yOursELf
your action will define you

ONE bIg braNdINg mIsTakE
microsoft trying to be apple, trying to follow and never reaching there!

bEsT braNdINg ExPErIENcE
apple, the guardian

LOvE TO wOrk ON
brand qatar

JUne 2011

QaTar TOday 63

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deVeloping the QAtAri
"IT’s vITaLLy ImPOrTaNT ThaT QaTar dOEs NOT LOsE ITs EssENcE by smOThErINg ITs TradITIONs aNd cuLTuraL NuaNcEs bEcausE ThE sPEcIfIcITIEs Of ITs cuLTurE arE whaT ThE wOrLd wILL uLTImaTELy faLL IN LOvE wITh"

culturAl identity brAnding the neW, neW World
The UK Brand Now I was recently in Heathrow’s Terminal Five building and happened upon the souvenir gift shop. As I walked around the aisles festooned with double-decker bus piggy banks, teddy bears wearing tiny sweaters emblazoned with Union Jacks and ludicrously priced Fortnum and Mason tea selections, I was overcome with a growing sense of woe and frustration. Being a Brit and a long time expat I am appalled at how my country insists on portraying itself to the outside world. The picture we paint of ourselves is misleading at best. My heckles rise when people of other nationalities describe the UK as being a nation that cannot cook, a place that suffers constant rain, and a

By DAvID OMI
quiet and reserved people with a stiff upper lip. Nothing could be further from the truth. There appears to be a profound disconnect between who we really are and who we are perceived to be. Which means that we do not have an effective cultural brand. Cultural identity as ambassador An effective cultural brand serves as an ambassador to the world. The role of ambassador is to represent everything that is good and authentic about a country. You can tell a lot about a culture from what it chooses to say about itself – a willingness to trade in cultural cliché belies a lack of confidence and fails to offer the world anything new.

cUltUral Branding
(left to right) qatar's cultural imports, tribeca film festival, university london college, christie's and ted conference

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1 2

3

4

United kingdom
what is actualy proJected to the world (1 & 2) and what could be proJected (3 & 4)

An effective cultural brand provides a powerful insight into the collective psyche of a people and the social and political mores of a country. Effective cultural representation can give business leaders valuable insights into a country vis-a-vis how their businesses might integrate into the local culture and avoid any political missteps by offering authentic insight into the potential threats, opportunities and practicalities of doing business there. But effective cultural representation requires a certain degree of accuracy. Cultures are always in a state of transition. None more so than the Middle East and its constituent nations. The Qatari Brand Now Qatar right now smacks of a country in a hurry to be loved by the world. It wants to show it is culturally progressive, having recently hosted the Doha (New York) Tribeca Film Festival and a TED (New York, Vancouver) conference. University College London is setting up a campus in the country and the Qatari powers that be are also looking to buy the auction house Christie’s. Already Harrods has fallen into its rapidly increasing global investment pool. Qatar is interested in becoming known for something beyond its untold wealth. It wants to be part of a larger cultural world and is using its vast resources to do so. But in its rush to impress the world with its cosmopolitan Rolodex, it is imperative that Qatar does not buy into the shopping mall of imported high

cultural status brand names, removed from time and place. In fact, this global mall is not theirs - it is not Qatari - and paving over ancient marketplaces for such construction leaves Qatar in a cultural desert. It’s vitally important that Qatar does not lose its essence by smothering its traditions and cultural nuances because the specificities of its culture are what the world will ultimately fall in love with. Hence why places like the Souq Waqif, Museum of Islamic Art and Katara are loved by the people who have embraced and adopted them as their own. Heritage, tradition and family values fused with enormous ambition, it seems, represent the Qatari DNA and as these are expressed outwardly in a truly authentic manner, monuments to Qatar’s brand will remain and emit Qatar’s brand as a legacy for generations. The Arab world’s struggle to recreate itself for the modern age provides Qatar with a fabulous opportunity. Namely the possibility to develop a cultural identity that represents not only Qatari society but also one that reflects in microcosm, everything that is beautiful about the Arab world’s newly emerging socio-political selfhood As for the UK’s souvenir gift shop in Heathrow’s Terminal Five, it remains a wasted opportunity in terms of conveying the true nature of our national character. The Arab Spring has directed the world’s rapt attention to this corner of the globe. Let’s not waste the opportunity by peddling in worn-out clichés.

JUne 2011

QaTar TOday 65

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