THE BLOG
22/06/2018 10:34 SAST | Updated 22/06/2018 10:53 SAST

Why Dubai Should Be Seriously Worried About The Damage The Guptas Are Doing To Its Brand

In this day and age, everything is a 'brand' it seems. People are brands. And (obvs) brands are brands. Increasingly, however, countries are brands too.

Muntu Vilakazi/ Gallo Images/ City Press

Why is Dubai not worried about the damage the Guptas are doing to the Dubai brand?

In this day and age, everything is a "brand" it seems. People are brands. And (obvs) brands are brands.

Increasingly, however, countries are brands too.

Huge amounts of money are spent on branding countries. Lavish TV ads and web films are being made. Everything from billboards to digital banners is being used to sell countries ranging from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. Okay, maybe not Zimbabwe, but definitely Zambia.

Great creative slogans are being used. For example "Meet South Africa" (a personal favourite) or "Jamaica, get all right" and "You don't need a holiday, you need Cape Town" or (it's not for a country, but it is fantastic) "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas".

Some rather odd ones are used too. "Singapore. Truly Asia" - Why are they telling us this?? Do they doubt their Asian-ness somehow?? Did they flunk some kind of Asian test, but hope to pass it soon?

"Kosovo. The young Europeans" - What?? How young? Too young to drink?? Or to use dad's car? I imagine Germany would be the dad in this equation. And probably reluctant to risk having the youngsters of Europe driving his car into a ditch? Should he Uber them instead??

Last year it spent $20m commissioning a campaign to promote Dubai as a desirable place to do business as part of a campaign by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

"Panama. It stays in you" - Okay that's disturbing. But not quite as disturbing as the slogan for Fiji which was until recently "Fiji me" accompanied by a visual of reclining scantily-clad beauty who was, we can only assume, waiting to be "Fiji-ed" whatever that means.

Anyway, in recent years Dubai has spent a fortune on branding itself (granted, Dubai has spent a fortune on MOST things in recent years, but that's not the point) and done a good job of positioning itself as a pro-business, investment-friendly, tourist-friendly, shopping-friendly location.

Last year it spent $20m (~R270-million) commissioning a campaign to promote Dubai as a desirable place to do business as part of a campaign by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. The head of this body specifically calls out South Africa as one of the countries they are targeting this spend towards.

Tourists spend a mind-bending $28-billion (~R380-million) in Dubai each year, as shoppers combine with conference goers and business people to keep the coffers plump.

The Tourism and Culture Authority's campaigns work in tandem with considerable marketing activity to promote Dubai as an investment and banking hub. Building up trust and reputational capital in these sectors is hard work, requiring initiatives like the Abu Dhabi and Thomson Reuters Ethical Finance and Innovation Awards.

The biggest bank in Dubai, the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) is the latest bank to become an official corporate supporter of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, "demonstrating a commitment to maintaining high ethical standards" in the banking arena.

Every time another newspaper article, TV clip or blog post mentions the unlovely fugitives and Dubai in the same sentence, Dubai damages itself in the minds of the international business community.

Competition for a share of this international banking pie is intense. With Mauritius, Malta, Qatar and the other Gulf States all fighting for a larger piece of the aforementioned pie and associated pie-toppings and condiments. Perhaps even fighting for the plate upon which this rest pie rests...

But that's enough about pie... All the spend and effort mentioned above goes into convincing international banks, asset managers and business people in the big financial hubs that Dubai is one of them. That the same rules are followed, that governance is a priority.

Which makes it all-the-more amazing that Dubai is prepared the endure the torrent of bad PR and reputational damage that are the Guptas. Every time another newspaper article, TV clip or blog post mentions the unlovely fugitives and Dubai in the same sentence, Dubai damages itself in the minds of the international business community. Every mention sends out exactly the wrong message about Dubai.

One wonders why this is allowed to happen? The lack of an extradition treaty is well known, but individual exceptions can easily be made. And a simple statement would address that problem. Much good work has been done to create Dubai's image as a stable and trustworthy banking and investment hub where the world can do business. Care should be taken that this image isn't muddied by the royal family of state capture.