The Pyramids? Sun and Surf? Manufacturing? IT? It’s the first question we need to answer before we can brand Egypt.
But for all of this, Egypt has no identity. Are we a manufacturing center? A future knowledge-based economy? A tourist destination selling sun, the Pharaohs or religious history? A natural-resources economy? Are we a member of the new economy or the old?
Earlier this year, news of a tripartite effort spearheaded by the Ministries of Investment, Tourism and Foreign Trade and Industry had the market buzzing about the possibility of launching a new campaign to brand Egypt. Imagine a campaign to brand cotton (approved nearly three years ago, but still waiting for final regulatory approval) writ large to advertise a consistent — and consistent looking —message about Egypt to the outside world, and answer the fundamental question of “Who are we?”
But as recently as last month, senior officials at all three ministries had no official statement to make about the project other than “it’s still under consideration.” Privately, some insiders will admit a Brand Egypt campaign is long overdue, but major players in the business community are puzzled that the Nazif government is dragging its feet on an issue that many feel has never been more important now that the nation is entering a new phase of reform.
Nation branding, or the use of strategic marketing to promote a country’s image, products and attractiveness for tourists and foreign direct investment (FDI), is no longer a choice, but a necessity.
“Branding a country is, in essence, no different from branding a product,” says Ehab Nada, managing director of Logic Enterprise IG North Africa, a local affiliate of Enterprise IG, the second-largest branding company in the world. “The country and the resources that exist inside it are your product. They are associated with certain qualities, characteristics and images. Your brand is what you project to the outside world, and it is of the utmost importance that the image is a positive and accurate one.”
Breaking it down to the most fundamental level, it’s all about how people process and recall images. “Humans tend to think in images. That’s why you need to see something in the same form, over and over again, before it becomes instantly recognizable to you. You need to associate certain things with the product.
“Many countries have put in a lot of time and effort into developing their unique brands, and it is paying off for them.”
Can you hear the word “Malaysia” without remembering the “Malaysia: Truly Asia” jingle? Or seeing one of its snappy advertisements in your mind? The creatives may have changed over time through regular updates, but the theme and logo of the campaign have remained constant, used in television spots, print ads and on the web.
“What image comes to mind when you think of Egypt?” asks Ghada Fikry, vice-president for business development at Back and Front, a local software development company. “The Pyramids, camels, maybe even King Tut. There are already many historical images associated with Egypt. We’re not one of those invisible countries starting from scratch, but we have to come up with a real brand for the country. Something that combines the historical with the modern to let people know what we are really about.”
Fikry, a former managing director of the local office of Grey Advertising, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, is presently researching and championing a Brand Egypt campaign on behalf of the Egyptian Junior Business Association.
“One of the challenges that we have to overcome if we want to attract investment is our traditional image. Investors want a modern, creative and productive country where it is easy to do business,” says Fikry.
Ghulam Asmal, political counselor and deputy head of mission at the South African embassy in Cairo, cautions that countries like Egypt with a rich historical heritage have to be careful not to be trapped by their histories. South Africa is currently executing one of the most impressive nation rebranding campaigns anywhere in the world to change an image of a past deeply associated with white racism under apartheid and a general skepticism about black Africans’ ability to govern a modern economy.
“The challenge is using the heritage to your advantage,” Asmal suggests. “Egypt has not been particularly successful at doing that. Perhaps the starkest example of failure to convey a positive image in Egypt’s case was the 2010 World Cup bid. You highlighted the Pyramids and the Sphinx, but you can neither play soccer nor do business at the top of the Pyramids.
“The pyramids are good to have because they are unique in branding, but they shouldn’t be the be all and end all.”
In the past, Egypt deployed separate promotions for tourism, investment and diplomacy, but an increasing number of countries are marketing themselves as a single, unified brand.
“It’s now much more effective to try and sell yourself as a complete destination,” says Nada.
“The three sectors are too interrelated to separate,” Fikry adds. “A business leader who comes to Egypt for the first time is essentially a tourist. He may be visiting the country as a potential investor, but his perceptions will be similar to those of a tourist. The opposite is also true: The tourist who comes to Egypt and has a positive experience will be encouraged to purchase a country’s exports. A healthy economy is in itself a key incentive to visit a country.”
Is the time right for Egypt to rebrand?
“You can’t sell something that is not there. When you brand you are magnifying reality, not creating something that doesn’t exist,” says Fikry. “The reality can be an existing reality or a work in progress. Egypt is now in the process of reforming economically and politically, and that in itself is an idea that you can brand. If we wanted to we could really capitalize on our reform process. I think it’s definitely the right time to brand or at least decide on what it is that we want to say about ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we have to rush out tomorrow and buy ad space but we need to start working on our message and identity.”
Six months ago, Enterprise IG set up shop in Egypt, now its North African headquarters, to address the untapped market potential in the field of branding. While their work locally has thus far been with the commercial sector, they are very interested in wooing the government of Egypt as well. They have approached both the MFTI and the Ministry of Investment, who both showed interest in the branding idea but nothing concrete has yet come out of their meetings.
Get a clue
Want a clue as to how bad Egypt’s image is abroad? Look no further than the web where, according to Nada, 90% of all tourist decisions and reservations now take place.
“Needless to say, a country’s official website is important,” he says, then points to the official website of the Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA). To say the site (www.egypttourism.org) leaves a lot to be desired would be an understatement.
The information on the site is reasonably relevant, and the vast number of options and destinations it has to offer surpass anything any of Egypt’s neighboring countries have to offer. Yet the site itself looks like something out of the mid-1990s; it is outdated, unimaginative and unattractive.
Its slogan is “Egypt: Where History Began and Continues.” Regardless of the catchphrase’s merit, it is not repeated or used on any other promotional material. The visuals on the site’s home page consist of four small circles portraying King Tut, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, a wall painting inside a tomb, and a felucca on the Nile in Aswan. At the top right hand corner of the page is a passport photograph of President Mubarak. At the bottom center of the page is a flashing message that reads “Egypt Specials Under $1000.”
“Now compare that to websites for countries like Greece, Tunisia, Mauritius or Morocco,” says Nada. “Not all of those sites are of excellent quality, but all of them have ideas. It’s alright to use your flag and be proud of your government, but you have to do it in a manner that is attractive and creative. Greece, for example, uses a very welcoming emblem of their flag as their official logo.”
With an official image that poor, is it any wonder that Egyptian officials abroad frequently turn to the private sector for help? Consider this: When it needed printed materials to promote tourism to Egypt, one of the nation’s largest and most important embassies abroad recently turned not to the Ministry of Tourism, but to Egypt Today, which bills itself as the nation’s leading current affairs and lifestyles magazine, asking for hundreds of copies of its annual 84-page tourism supplement “52 Weekends.” The officials also requested the rights to reuse and reproduce digital copies of the photos that appeared in the package. (Disclosure: Egypt Today is the sister publication of this magazine.)
“I don’t know why we insist on selling ourselves cheap,” says Khaled Galal, a branding consultant and co-founder of BrandCulture, a joint venture initiative between Galal and Britain’s Cultural Innovations. “Yes, our tourist figures are up, topping 8.1 million tourists last year [and projected to hit 9 million this year], but most of it is this packaged [Eastern European] tourism that doesn’t generate as much revenue as it should.”
Galal is also critical of the current “Red Sea Riviera” ads in heavy rotation on international broadcasters to promote Egypt’s beaches.
“I don’t think that the ads really serve Egypt. We want Egypt to be shiny. We think that Egypt will be great if we have beautiful girls in bikinis and beautiful landscapes, but this alone will not sell. With ads like that you are losing your edge to countries like Spain, which are essentially selling the same thing — but doing a better job at it,” he says.
As Galal sees it, “I think we have to work more on defining what our unique selling point is, then we build on it and communicate it to the world gradually. One ad will not sell Egypt. It has to be a whole communications strategy, which could take 5-10 years to build properly.”
Nada agrees, saying, “Unfortunately, our tourism marketing efforts have not been very innovative thus far. Most of the ads that we see today precede the current Minister of Tourism, Ahmad El Maghraby. They weren’t created under his leadership, but he hasn’t changed them, either.”
Of the three ministries now working on the national branding project, insiders say the Ministry of Tourism is the most activist — and most adamant that the project needs to go forward this year.
How other countries did it
Is tourism the best starting point? As the case studies presented by Spain, Ireland and South Africa suggest, Spain thought so, while both Ireland and South Africa took a more holistic approach that experts say may be more instructive for Egypt in the months ahead.
(Although many point to Dubai as a success story, let us argue, for a moment, that it is not the ideal case study for Egypt to follow: Less than two decades ago, it had no image, little infrastructure and an economy based largely on fishing. While there are many lessons Egypt can learn from the emirate — and while Egypt needs to be careful in positioning itself relative to the region’s emerging financial services hub — South Africa, Ireland and Spain all had previous images they needed to address, and more complicated problems to solve, as does Egypt.)
“Some start branding mainly to attract tourism, as Spain did, and others go for branding an image that will attract FDI first, like Ireland,” says Fikry. “South Africa is probably one of the few examples where all sectors — investment, tourism, trade and public diplomacy — were given equal attention from day one.”
The South African story is an interesting one, and whatever rivalry may exist between Pretoria and Cairo for pole position on the African continent, it is probably the most instructive for Egypt.
“Unlike Egypt, with 5,000 years of civilization that the world always wants to learn more about, South Africa has a past that it wants to erase. Pre-1994 was a dark period in South African history. Real patriotism only began when apartheid ended,” says Asmal.
After the peaceful fall of the apartheid regime in 1994, the new South African government was caught in a dilemma: Emotionally, the entire world wanted to support it. Economically, corporations’ skepticism of black Africans’ ability to manage their own economies spoke against new investment, particularly given the success of the country’s white Afrikaaner business community in building a solid economy despite sanctions against their regime.
While many credit the South African government (first of President Nelson Mandela, now of Thabo Mbeki) with the turnaround, the business community was in the driver’s seat from day one, helping formulate, fund and launch a comprehensive branding campaign that has revitalized South Africa at home and upgraded its image abroad.
In 2001, the government formed the International Marketing Council of South Africa (IMC) for the sole purpose of addressing the gap that existed between the reality of South Africa and the way the world perceived the country; the IMC rolled out the campaign “South Africa: Alive with Possibility” to widespread acclaim and has only improved it in the past three and a half years.
According to Yvonne Johnston, chief executive of IMC, her organization is an independent body with a government mandate to carry out its mission, not just another arm of the state bureaucracy.
“We are given free reign to carry out our job as we see fit,” she says in a telephone interview with bt from South Africa. “The government does not dictate to us in any way. We do not have ministers calling up and telling us to say this and that. This freedom to act has been the key to our success. To properly brand a country, you need an independent body of marketers working ‘round the clock,” says Johnston.
With a team of only 30 dedicated staffers, the IMC quite literally does work around the clock: “We have 12 young trainees who work in our communications research center. They search the web 24 hours a day for anything that is written about South Africa. We then respond to anything that needs responding to. This is to ensure that any misconceptions about the country are immediately addressed,” explains Johnston.
The rest of the staff are marketing gurus who do PR, write speeches and make sure that the brand language is correct and consistent in all South African communications and promotional material of any nature.
The IMC’s initial round of funding came from the government, but the council has since set up a private funding arm to allow South African businesses to contribute to the effort as well. According to Johnston, the support of the South African people (and business leaders in particular) has been an essential element in the campaign’s success.
“Your message has to be targeted inward before you take it outside. We spent the first 18 months of the campaign focusing on our own country,” she says. “It’s like running a factory. In order to manufacture a good product your workers have to understand what they are making, why they are making it and how to go about achieving the best results. If they don’t believe in what they are doing, the finished product will never measure up to standards.
“We have seen a distinct shift within South Africans in that respect. They now believe in their country and the possibilities for the future,” she adds.
Johnston admits that it was challenging to come up with a coherent national identity into which all stakeholders could buy. “We had to consider all the aspects of our society before we came up with the brand. Although our history has caused us to be divided, we found core values that are common to all South Africans. We all wanted our country to move forward so that we could provide a better life for our children,” she says.
The IMC has also given birth to or inspired a number of complimentary campaigns, including, “Proudly South African,” which promotes SA companies, products and services. Companies that meet the standards set by Proudly South African can use the logo to identify themselves, their products and services. Similarly, South Africa: The Good News is a private organization dedicated to spreading good news about the country over the internet and in print publications.
“All these projects started because there was so much negativity that people were forgetting the good stories,” says Asmal. “For the businessmen who invested in such efforts, it was not only a patriotic act, but a move that proved to be very good for their bottom lines.”
Need proof? The World Competitiveness Report now ranks South Africa second in export market diversification and fourteenth for creating shareholder value. The country has also been identified by the US Department of Commerce as one of the world’s top 10 emerging markets based on “the enormous potential that exists in South Africa for US businesses.” The Institute of International Finance recently praised South Africa as being among the best emerging-market performers in terms of corporate governance.
“After 1994, many white South Africans left the country. Interestingly enough, we are now seeing many of them return,” Asmal says. “During the past couple of years we have also won the World Cup 2010 bid, hosted the Rugby World Cup, the Cricket World Cup, the World Summit for Sustainable Development and the World Racism Conference,” says Asmal. In fact, today more than 50% of the conferences in Africa take place in South Africa. That alone has helped us to become a major tourist destination.”
“It’s all about putting South Africa on the radar screen for investment and tourism,” Johnston says. “If you wanted to go on vacation five or six years ago, South Africa was not even an option for most people; today it is. We are still, however, very much a work in progress. To really build a strong brand it can take up to 20 years. You have to keep repeating the same message over and over again.”
How successful has the South African campaign been? After economic growth stalled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with GDP growth essentially flat, the nation’s economic output climbed from 779 billion rand to 1008 billion rand today. That figure is 25% of Africa’s GDP; South Africa leads the continent in industrial output (40% of total output), mineral production (45%) and electricity generation (over 50%). Its industrial base has grown beyond natural resources extraction and manufacturing to include a growing services sector and a booming tourism industry. Inflation is under control, and the economy should grow at a comfortable 4% this year.
In the mid-1980s, Ireland was faced with an economy on the verge of collapse. Political strife had made bombs a near-daily occurrence, unemployment had hit 20%, and emigration was returning to dangerously high levels.
“Entire university classes were emigrating. For a country with a population of just 3-3.5 million [at the time], it was quite frightening,” says Gerard McCoy, deputy head of mission at the Irish embassy in Cairo. “And it was the best educated people who were taking their skills and going elsewhere because they couldn’t find jobs at home.”
Ireland has long had a tradition of emigration, with approximately 70 million people worldwide now able to claim they are of Irish decent, but alarm bells went off in the 1980s because of the sheer numbers involved.
“The government, as well as various social groups and opposition parties, decided to join forces to come up with a program of national recovery. We knew that one of our biggest assets was our highly educated population, which came as a result of successive Irish governments investing quite heavily in education since the 1960s. We had gotten education right, now we had to get investment,” says McCoy.
Under the new Irish Industrial Development Authority, the government and private sector worked together to forge a new campaign to attract foreign investment. The message was simple: Come to Ireland, and you’ll find not only a highly educated and flexible workforce, but also lower taxes, access to one of the largest markets in the world, and a pleasant place to live.
Last year, the Economist ranked Ireland as the number one place in the world to live. “I think we have a very high quality of life in Ireland today, not just a high standard of living. Our economy has developed tremendously over the past 25 years, and yet we still have a very strong sense of community,” says McCoy.
Between 1992 and 2004, the number of jobs in Ireland grew from 1.1 to 1.8 million. By the end of 2005, the figure is expected to reach 2 million, the highest it has ever been in Irish history. Unemployment is down to 4%, and at 5% per annum, economic growth in Ireland is much higher than the EU average of 1.6%.
According to the Bilateral Economic Relations Division (BERD) at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, “Ireland remains one of the most successful EU states at attracting foreign investment with direct inward investment flows representing 17% of GDP in 2003. The EU average was just 1.7%.”
Chipmaker Intel alone has invested a total of ¤ 5 billion in Ireland, which now has the largest Intel development plant in the world outside of the US. Pushing its knowledge-economy edge, Ireland has grown into a major IT and pharmaceuticals hub, with nearly every major US and international IT and pharmaceutical company setting up its European headquarters there.
“Many tens of thousands of Irish people who left are now coming back. These returnees bring back with them a wealth of experience that has been very healthy for the country,” says McCoy. “For the first time in our history, we also have significant numbers of immigrants coming into Ireland from both the EU and elsewhere. When the EU enlarged last year, Ireland was one of only three states to invite workers to come immediately and work.”
Last year, one third of all new jobs in Ireland were filled by immigrants.
“There was definitely a need to explain to the outside world what Ireland is like today,” McCoy says, explaining why the national branding campaign continues even now that the Irish economy is known as the Celtic Tiger. “The country that had become known as a place that has had more than its share of hardship and political strife, sending millions of its people away all over the world who were not necessarily well educated, is now a completely different place,” says McCoy.
“If it weren’t for the efforts of the IDA and the promotions that it carried out to explain to investors the reality of modern-day Ireland, that image would not have changed. Even our neighbors in the UK were initially unaware of the transformation. They had to be told about it.”
But as McCoy cautions, image is nothing without the substance to back it up, a lesson Egypt would do well to keep in mind as it inches toward a branding campaign of its own.
“Irish cities went through a process of upgrading, making themselves interesting places to live for a new target market of entrepreneurs that the government was trying so hard to attract. They wanted young, creative professionals, many of whom would work in cutting edge businesses like IT. Dublin, for example, became an interesting, trendy place to live, which in turn made it an interesting, trendy place to visit,” says Fikry.
Once Ireland was firmly established as a first-class investment destination, a boom in tourism followed. “The Island of Ireland Tourist Authority has been very active in promoting tourism. Ireland is branded as a small, clean and green island. We have tried to capitalize on the fact that unlike most of Europe, the industrial revolution pretty much passed us by. We have very little heavy industry,” says McCoy.
Last year, 6.5 million tourists visited and spent in excess of ¤ 4 billion in Ireland, figures that have increased three-fold since the 1990s. A huge tourist market for Ireland has been the US, where there are over 40 million Americans of Irish decent. Ireland’s promotional campaigns cleverly take note of the immigrant market niche with the slogan “Ireland: the Island of Memories.”
“The text in the ads is always very mystical and poetic, bringing into play Ireland’s wealth of poetry and literature. Even the script is always typically Irish and the shamrock is always present,” says Fikry. “Consistency is key.”
“There is no one size fits all,” cautions McCoy, who notes that European nations are cheering for Egypt, hoping it might rebrand, but watchful for concrete results. A new image is great, he suggests, but it is nothing unless underpinned by “the four pillars: services, goods, capital and people.
“Ireland and Egypt are different in many ways,” McCoy continues, “but people are people and businesses will go where it makes good sense to go. Ireland in the 1980s was not a good place to go. First, we made a concerted effort to change; then, we let the rest of the world know about it.”
Spain decided early on that tourism would be its engine of economic growth. “We have been attracting large numbers of tourists since the 1960s, but we were doing so with very basic elements, namely the sun and sand,” says Enrique Feas, economic and commercial counselor at the Embassy of Spain in Cairo. “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, we were being promoted primarily through the writing of famous literary figures like Hemingway.”
By the early 1980s, as Spain began to actively pursue liberalization ahead of seeking membership in the European Union, the government of the day accepted that it could no longer rely on passively attracting tourists with romanticized images. Increasing competition with other countries offering essentially the same commodity was starting to cut into growth.
Spain needed a way of setting itself apart from the pack and so set out to rebrand its tourism industry while at the same time looking how to integrate the tourism industry into its overall image as it joined the EU.
“We have a cultural heritage that is quite varied,” Feas says. “There are the Arab influences in the south and the Roman and Celtic heritage in the north. We wanted to highlight this cultural diversity without ignoring our strong selling point of sand and beaches,” explains Feas.
In the late 1980s, the government launched Tour España to brand and market Spain. The renowned Spanish artist Juan Miró painted the sun logo used in all of Spain’s ads and travel posters, twinned up with the slogan “Everything Under the Sun.”
“The ads could be for anything — monuments, national parks, beaches, our cities — but they all had the ‘Everything Under The Sun’ logo,” says Feas. “And thus the brand was created.”
Three years into the campaign, Spain began to take in more tourists every year than there were Spaniards living in their own country: In 1990, Spain (population: 40 million) welcomed just over 40 million tourists. Today, around 60 million visitors stop by every year.
“In parallel, we began thinking about communicating the idea that Spain was changing in terms of its economy. Once we joined the EU in 1986, the message that ‘We are no longer this strange thing down in the south, but a modern economy just like the rest of Europe.’ We drilled this into the ad campaigns that featured the EU logo,” says Feas.
Fikry is particularly impressed with the Spanish experience, where a nation that was a dictatorship until Franco’s death in 1975 was still the pariah of Western Europe on the eve of its joining the European Union. Among the keys to its success: The national and regional governments worked closely with export-promotion agencies devoted to wines, foods and fashion to spread the word about the country’s renewal — and its attractions for tourists, investors and traders.
“Spain is a very interesting example,” Fikry says. “They’ve gone through a 20-year transformation. Tourism was the vehicle that catapulted them to the status that they are in today. Industry and trade followed. The phenomenal worldwide success of Spanish clothing manufacturers Mango and Zara, as well as the Spanish movie industry, has also helped them to build their brand.
“They now have a formal committee made up of people from tourism, industry and the art world to brand Spain as an artsy, stylish and fun destination for tourism as well as business,” says Fikry.
“The Barcelona Olympics and the World Expo in Seville [both held in 1992] proved to the rest of the world that Spain had changed. It was a complimentary effort between advertising, branding and reality,” says Feas.
The formula for success
“For any branding effort to succeed, it is obvious that there has to be good cooperation and coordination between the government and the private sector,” says Logic IG’s Nada. Experts are split, though, on whether the initiative should come from the bottom up or whether it has to begin with the government.
According to Fikry, it can happen either way — as long as the end result is a partnership between the public and private sectors.
“The first step does not necessarily have to come from the government,” she says. “In the case of New Zealand, for example, it started with 10 CEOs representing the country’s largest exporting companies. Ten years ago, they got together and decided to contribute a percentage of their annual advertising budgets to a fund that would brand and advertise New Zealand.
“The initial slogan of ‘Far and Away the Best’ later evolved into ‘New Zealand: 100 Percent Pure,’ along with consistent use of the fern leaf logo. It is now being used to promote everything from tourism to exports.”
With their proposal firmly sketched out, the CEOs approached the government, which eventually became an essential stakeholder in the campaign. Together, they agreed to set up The New Zealand Way as a joint public-private entity to serve as the brand book for the country.
“It can happen from the bottom up, I suppose,” Nada says, “but the reason why we in Egypt haven’t been able to move forward on the branding front is that so far no one formally owns the idea. When you go and present something like this to a minister who has 33 different items on his project list, it won’t be prioritized and it won’t move forward,” says Nada.
Today, there are at least three different entities — including the European Union, private branding companies like Enterprise IG and NGOs including the Junior Business Association — presenting their own pitches to the various governmental agencies and ministries interested in branding Egypt.
According to Fikry, the World Bank has given the Ministry of Investment a $2 million grant to market Egypt as an investment destination. To date, though, that funding is earmarked largely to public relations efforts, not branding. Among the EU grants was a technical assistance fund allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry specifically for rebranding, but insiders say the project is still in its very early stages.
“Branding requires massive financing,” says Nada. “You have to buy lots of media time and really invest in the right people to create your brand. It is not just a matter of going to a small art house and having them draw a logo. What often happens with the Ministry of Tourism is that they go to an advertising agency and ask them to create an ad campaign for Egypt. The result is what you see out there now: weak ads. It is not up to the ad agency to come up with a brand. That’s the role of the branding agency. Advertising’s role is to execute according to the brand strategy that they are given.”
As Nada sees it, the private sector has a role to play, “but it has to be done under the government’s auspices. If the president and the prime minister are on board, we can really take it forward,” says Nada. “We would love to create some sort of an association or forum for branding Egypt. Studying South Africa’s IMC is really worthwhile at this point. We’ll do the work and the fundraising, all the government needs to do is maintain its credibility, because when you brand, you are setting up an expectation of a certain type of environment that you have to live up to.”
The question of whether it’s necessary to wait until you start achieving positive results and palpable change on the economic front is also an issue the nation has yet to address. Most agree, though, that the branding can accompany the ongoing reform process.
“I think the time to start is now,” says Fikry. “Dubai didn’t wait until it became the financial hub of the Middle East to start marketing itself. It was a very conscious effort from day one.”
“Look at the difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” Nada adds. “It’s a poignant example of how two emirates in the same country have completely different images. Although Abu Dhabi is the richer of the two, Dubai is by far the most visible and has attracted more investment. Why? Clever branding and marketing,” says Nada.
Abu Dhabi has recently tried to catch up by branding itself as the industrial capital of the UAE.
“Ten years ago it was inconceivable that Dubai would become a destination for tourism or anything but doing business, but it has happened. Now everyone in the Middle East [particularly Qatar and Abu Dhabi] is trying to imitate them,” says Fikry.
“I hope that Egypt won’t try to imitate Dubai,” says Sherine Mishriki, a cultural consultant now working to rebrand Egypt as a cultural destination (see box). “We have to find our own identity and come up with a consistent message that can be packaged differently for the four dimensions that we are trying to address: tourism, FDI, exports and public diplomacy. If you continue to convey a different message on each of these fronts, you will lose credibility,” says Mishriki.
“Egypt desperately needs a branding exercise,” Nada cautions, adding, “We need to do some soul searching and come up with a real identity. It will be challenging because we lack the icons and the causes of the past that united us, but it can be done.”
Other than the fact that the nation can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a knowledge-based economy, a manufacturing hub or a natural-resources producer, the biggest problem is that “We are just so late,” Nada says. “I have loads of experts in London and South Africa who are willing to come at their own expense to participate in a Brand Egypt forum or seminar.
“All we lack is the government’s ear.” bt
By Hadia Mostafa