From a branding standpoint, 2012 is a remarkably critical year for several parties across the world. Apart from being an Olympic year for London, the whole island has gone all out for its ‘Great Britain’ brand image push to tie in with the games later this year, in an effort to attract tourists to the country. The Euro 2012 scrutiny on Ukraine and Poland also adds to this, as this is a big year for global sport.
Closer to home, Egypt is pushing forward as it holds its first presidential elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, and the whole world is analysing their every move in what is seen as a major symbol for an alternative style of government in the region. This is also branding, but at a very political level, and one that could have repercussions for the future of the country and the region. In many ways, its probably the most important branding that will happen this year.
Moving away from nation branding, this is the 100th year of Oreo (who knew?), the 200th year of Citibank (somehow I think we all knew) and the year when Emirates rebranded.
Emirates is, by far, the most important corporate brand to have emerged out of the Middle East. Dubai is probably second in that list, but unlike Dubai, Emirates has yet to suffer a recession. Anybody who has tried to book tickets on an Emirates flight will be testament to that.
Of course, the big question was, why? Why did Emirates feel a need to rebrand? The ubiquitous tagline ‘Fly Emirates. Keep Discovering.’ was one of the most successful branding exercises in modern advertising. It was short, it was evocative and it was supremely successful. So, why?
Emirates responded with a ‘why not?’. Such is the confidence of the brand and the company, that they rebranded their entire image when there was really no need to. This was not only incredibly inspired but phenomenally risky. It could have backfired. It could have created brand confusion. Brand loyalty could have diminished. In short, it was a risk that there was no reason to take.
I am so glad they did.
This is probably the first time I have ever seen an airline brand itself by never showing a single airplane or airport. Nothing even remotely connected to air travel. Except of course, the various locations they have shot their creative at to show the idea of travel. Instead of getting bogged down by ideas of filling up their seats by showing how affodable the luxury is on a Emirates plane, they have gone one step further to paint Emirates as a lifestyle brand instead of an airline.
I read recently that once Strawberry Frog (their creative agency) was signed on, they were drafted into a three month immersion programme within Emirates, to learn about the brand and what it is trying to communicate. With that kind of insight, its no wonder the finished product is so polished.
Each 10 second TV spot ends with a simple tagline; ‘Fly Emirates. Hello Tomorrow.’ Each creative across each media is consistent with this message. Personally, it doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as easily as their previous one did, and grammatically it is a little dodgy. But this reminds of another branding campaign, probably the most successful and critically acclaimed of recent times, that is remembered for its clear (if grammatically dodgy) message and a stark lack of actual product placement; Apple’s Think Different campaign.
Has Emirates reached that level of loyalty and recognition? Have we stopped thinking about Emirates as an airline, and more as a way of life? Has Emirates become so successful that they do not even need to tell people why they should fly with them?
Unclear as it is at the moment, Emirates is flying high with a highly memorable campaign. And the rest of us are the better for it. Within the industry in the region, it gives us all something to aim for. Hopefully the next time we won’t have to wait for Emirates to raise the bar again.
April 1, 2012
The Doha Debates
Such has been my limited intellectual expansion over the last few years that it was only on the 31st of March 2012, that I actually watched an entire episode of the 8 year old series ‘The Doha Debates’. It wasn’t something I planned to do, it sort’ve just happened. I was having lunch and switched on the TV, and this just happened to be on.
I realise now I have been missing out.
The topic being discussed was the discouragement of first cousin marriages within the region. What surprised me more than the topic being discussed on TV in such a sensitive area, was the incredibly lucid, intellectual and convincing arguments and questions that were being thrown up by the panel and the audience. I have never seen anything like this before in this region, but this is an incredibly powerful medium which the Qatar Foundation have provided Arabs in this region to voice opinions and debate powerful and relevant social topics that are infinitely more important than the usual fluff that we are subjected to in our newspapers, which mostly cover international hard news.
Having piqued my interest, I spent the rest of the afternoon on The Doha Debates website, combing through their past eight year backlog of debates and finally found one that resonated incredibly closely with me, ‘Dubai is a bad idea’. For those of you who have not seen it and are linked with this city, I encourage you to watch it. It is eye-opening and incredibly heartening to see the kind of decent cerebral exchange of ideas on a topic that has been bandied about with the least amount of respect in newspapers across the globe. The debate, in true Arab fashion, got a little more heated than it should’ve, but if anything that undermined the sort of incessant and nagging negativism that we have continued to hear regarding Dubai since the recession hit.
Another topic that hit home with me was, ‘Muslims get a bad deal in India’. What followed was 45 minutes of the most thought-provoking and stimulating discussion I have ever seen on the issue of India’s largest minority. Several points were raised that I had never really considered, and numerous questions were asked that I had, as an Indian Muslim, never really thought off, but once I had heard them, seemed the most obvious questions in the world. Having looked past the shame of my apathetical ignorance, I further drifted further and further along with the panel and audience, after which several audience members weren’t happy with the result of the debate but were magnanimous enough to admit, ‘…such is democracy’.
The Doha Debates are one of the most important intellectual and social stimulus and benchmarks for the region. As an expatriate living in the Arab world for most of my life, this is by far the most accessible form of solid social discussion I have found, which goes far beyond the usual information that is usually dissipated in this region. I only hope this leads to further discussion and education for everybody involved in the region where such endeavours aren’t unique but the norm.
December 15, 2011
DIFF 2011: Dalpaengee Eui Byeol (Planet of Snail) - South Korea
Directed by: Seung-Jun Yi
Beautiful. Touching. Sensitive. Riveting. Incredible. Hopeful. Feel-good. Eye-opening.
It is difficult to fully describe how much I enjoyed this movie.
The documentary of a man, Young-Chan, who has been deaf and blind since childhood, and his wife, Soon-Ho, who suffers from Achondroplasia, we are invited into their lives for a while to see just how capable human beings really are, without it ever descending into patronising and condesending fare. We see them changing a light bulb together, having friends over (others who are also differently abled like them), Young-Chan taking an exam, working on plays and scripts, and being surprisingly funny through it all.
For a documentary about something that is not openly discussed in Dubai, the movie does not indulge in the usual practices of interviewing members of the family, friends and others who have known them. Instead, it feels like the director just followed them around with a camera, while they went about their lives.
Accompanying us for the journey is Young-Chan’s incredibly poetic voice over of his own poetry, as he touches on several facets of life as lived by a deaf-blind man.
What really got to me was how simple the movie was. It was essentially the director telling us a story of two people. Of their relationship, of their love, and of their lives. But it wasn’t cliched. It wasn’t syrupy sweet. And it definitely wasn’t vomit inducing, as so often many of these things turn into. It was a very simple and clear love story between two people and why they are together. Like most, if not all, of us, nobody wants to be alone. And these two people, with their different difficulties, managed to find a reason to be together.
The director told us that they have been together for over 10 years now. That is a successful relationship by any measure. Turns out that they were also invited for the film when it played in South Korea, with Young-Chan provided with a text file to follow along the movie on screen. But more than anything, the movie is a fascinating insight into difficult lives lived by extraordinary people, which makes the difficulties of able bodied people seem insignificant by comparison. But the real mastery is that it does this without being preachy.
December 15, 2011
DIFF 2011: Unter Schnee (Under Snow) - Germany
Directed by: Ulrike Ottinger
Part of the festival’s In Focus - Germany section, the film is a bit of an anomaly as it is actually about Japan. A documentary/fantasy/artistic piece about the Echigo region in Japan where winter lasts from December to May. The movie provides stark and blindingly white backdrops for the entire story, that is a documentary about the region, the people and their customs interspersed with Japanese folklore, fairytale and kabuki theatre.
As you can imagine, it is a very artistically inclined movie.
It borders on the line of experimental, if one can call it that. Just as the plot begins in the real world, it spins off into the fantasy, while around it, real life in the town carries on unabated. There is enough snow there for a lifetime, but a story that begins with two men and ends with a man and a woman and their child, is a little difficult to follow and fully grasp.
Towards the end, the story moves to a very famous island in Japan (the name unfortunately escapes me), where this child is banished, much like many other famous people in Japanese history. However, the island is shown as present day, while the narrator narrates from the Edo period.
It is probably better viewed as a work of art to better help in understanding what is primarily a very oblique piece of work. It does not help that we, especially in a city like Dubai, have been conditioned to consuming commercial cinema that follows, for the most part, very set rules and guidelines. I respect the director for doing something very avant garde, but I believe I am not ready yet to fully understand the complexity of her work.
But one thing that shown through is the very obvious spirituality that is an everyday occurance in rural Japan. Think of Japan and one always thinks of sprawling urbanised landscapes with technologies that you can barely believe, but this movie was shot in a region where rural life is still very much a part of the social fabric. Coupled with the continuous offerings to the gods by the people of the town, it is a fascinatingly refreshing change from the Neo-Tokyo image that is forever part of popular Japanese culture.
Again, this is not an easy film to understand, it is more succesfully viewed as a work of art. But if anything is simple to take away from this movie, it is that Japan is a very contrasting nation that cannot be assumed to be the same everywhere. And it snows a lot over there.
December 15, 2011
DIFF 2011: Tae Peang Phu Deaw (P-047) - Thailand
Directed by: Kongdej Jaturanrasmee
One of the reasons why I went to see this movie is because the first line of it’s synopsis in the DIFF 2011 catalogue went, ‘Lek is a lonely locksmith…’
I am a sucker for alliteration.
Indeed the movie was not all alliteration (much to my chagrin), but the movie suffers from two halves. The movie has a fairly straight forward story line, up till its midpoint, from where things begin to get a little murky.
The movie begins much like a crime noir film, about Lek (who actually is a lonely locksmith) and Kong who wants to be a writer. They both work right across from one another in a shopping mall, when Kong hits upon the idea of breaking into people’s houses during the day, and leaving before they return. They don’t steal, they only borrow; people’s houses and their lives, for a few hours.
Fascinating premise to say the least, and the film’s non-linear story flow makes it even more attractive to watch, as plot points are explained in flashbacks as the story progresses.
Mid-way through they movie, they break into a man’s house from where the whole movie flips on it’s head. Suddenly, we are not quite sure of Lek’s identity, so much so as he doesn’t seem very sure of it either. Kong disappears, and the whole plot of breaking into people’s houses is pushed aside. It’s not that it isn’t worth watching anymore, its just that I felt a little let down by how pulp fiction-esque the beginning of the movie was before it was lead down a completely different path.
The movie is definitely worth a watch, and although there is a complete sequence of a gay character I could not quite understand why was in the movie, the film ends on a hopeful note. For Lek at least. Or the person we identify as Lek in the movie.
One of the best things about watching a movie in a festival is that you get to ask questions to the director as soon as the credits roll, which unfortunately was not quite as illuminating as I had hoped it would be. The English title, P-047, doesn’t actually have any particular signifcance to the story, and was just a railway platform number that the director decided to use.
A very prominent motif in the movie, that of empty houses, was left a little under-explained in my opinion. The two major characters break into empty houses during the day time, but the slow panning camera shots, with focus on various empty parts of the house did not elicit a very enlightening answer from the director on this particular theme. For my sake, I believe this was done to address issues of privacy, loneliness, life and material wealth, in the sense that we spend all our time and money to make our homes as comfortable and pleasurable for ourselves as possible, but we do not spend as much times in them as we probably should to fully enjoy it. Similarly, the differences between houses of rich and middle class people reflected the very real issue of class and income, something that is persistant in all cities around the world.
I enjoyed the movie, but I would have also liked the two main characters explore the idea of breaking into people’s empty houses more. I feel the movie felt like it was leading somewhere before suddenly breaking off and instead went in another direction. Which is still enjoyable, just not what I was hoping for.