Cities around the world want to attract more tourists as well as entrepreneurs and businesses from around the world. Tourists bring money locally and create jobs. They stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, buy souvenirs and some even end up doing business with the locals.
“As seen on screen” works for consumers. Most people live their lives through the television – it teaches us about the world. America has had a huge advantage for the past few decades as Hollywood dominated the global cinema. So for us to see New York and Los Angeles was quite common. Everyone had heard about the Bronx and Compton.
Now cities from around the world are getting better at “city placement”. Dubai has created a global brand out of no where. Now when I speak with Americans I have to explain to them that I live in Abu Dhabi which is an hour north of Dubai. Dubai is the awesome thing to happen to the Arab world. No other city has been branded quite like it. Not many tourists want to go to Baghdad, Libya or Yemen. But Dubai is different. When I have visited America, Australia, Europe, Africa and the Sub-continent people had heard and aspired to visit Dubai. It is the place to be.
The worlds tallest building. The 7 star hotel. Skiing in the dessert. From a marketer’s point of view I love the branding Dubai has done. As Seth Godin talks about “the purple cow” – Dubai was so remarkable that it was a purple cow – we tend to ignore the rest and only REALLY unusual stuff makes us look. Dubai created that.
Cities will compete more and more for people’s time and money. Abu Dhabi is also now branding itself. A city can be a much more effective way to brand than a whole country. During the Bush years America lost a lot of brand equity – but what was able to sustain it was that people still thought “California” was cool. And so was “New York”. These places are different than “America”.
Pakistan has major branding issues. One strategy for it to rebrand would be to start marketing the cities. “Karachi”, “Lahore”, “Taxila” etc. As politics is hardly ever positive the cities can limit the brand damage to themselves. The worst thing that happens every time something negative happens in the news is that businesses lose millions of dollars of orders as consumers/purchasing agents get scared. So one bomb blast reported literally means hundreds of job opportunities are lost as consumers/tourists won’t visit the country. Although the city and country are obviously related – they can always brand each other separately. Not many people have heard of UAE but everyone knows Dubai.
Switzerland has local communes that compete with each other to attract residents and visitors. You can negotiate your tax rate on an individual level with each of the communes. One major reason for the “success” of the Emirates is that the 7 emirates are quite independent. Dubai built its own brand and now the other emirates are benefiting from the extra exposure to the region. In fact the whole of the Middle East has benefited from the positive image that Dubai has brought to the region. Many Arab-Americans or Arab-Canadians have made their way back to the region due to the positive brand that Dubai created. Some moved to other places in the region such as Abu Dhabi and some have stayed on in Dubai.
Having cities compete for attention also brings competition. Typically governments are lazy and don’t do the people much justice. they have no competition – if the police force sucks – where will you go? Having cities compete though means that the different cities will try to out do each other.
Bloggers such as this Turkish lady living in the emirates tell their opinions on stories such as the difference of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This is how marketing is going. The movies and the adverts will tell the story the sponsors want to tell you. Bloggers will tell you how it is in their opinions. So no longer can the governments control what is said about their brands. Either they have to shut down the internet or people will express their opinions online. The Arab world is still slow to “get” what the internet is all about. Mostly they consume American writers and YouTube videos made from the West.
Now though a lot more content will begin to be created from this part of the world – once people learn how EASY it is to have your own newspaper (blog), radio (podcast) and television (YouTube) station. The education system is slow to teach them how to use these tools as the systems are quite archaic in this part of the world. Still focusing on teaching students how to memorize rather than be creative. Students though can pick up the technology themselves and we are in for quite a reform.
It’s going to be a major culture shift. For instance the word “sex” is not considered best practice in the conservative Muslim world. But as “Sex and the City 2” is a super popular show in the United States and appeals to the American consumers, Abu Dhabi places its city in the show – one has to adapt to where they are promoting. I’m guessing that Abu Dhabi paid for the “city placement” to the movie producers. Universities such as Harvard also pay movies to have their name mentioned within the movie. So do the likes of Starbucks, Nike and BMW. Product placement was always popular, but now city placement is going to get more and more popular. If the middle east wants to attract the American consumer, they have to start placing their cities in movies in a positive manner – not just having “Ahmed, the terrorist’s homeland”….but for what the cities truly are.