x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Face that launched a thousand shipments

Modesh, the Jack-in-the-box character, leaps from strength to strength with licence deals for hundreds more products and role in promotion tourism.

Modhesh, the cartoon character, beckons shoppers in a kiosk at Ibn Battuta mall in Dubai.
Modhesh, the cartoon character, beckons shoppers in a kiosk at Ibn Battuta mall in Dubai.

DUBAI // The face of Modhesh, the yellow jack-in-the-box mascot of the Dubai Shopping Festival, (DSF) will appear on 1,000 products by next year as Brand Modhesh goes international. The cartoon character has been a ubiquitous sight in Dubai over the summer as he beckons shoppers into the malls in a bid to give Dubai's retail sector a seasonal boost.

Although his beaming smile has not attracted the usual hordes of shoppers in a tough economic climate, he has become a marketable commodity in his own right. The shopping festival said that last year, the Modhesh brand generated Dh100 million (US$27m) in revenue, and that by next spring 1,000 products, from bedspreads to milk cartons, would bear his face. With his popularity growing year on year, the festival is looking to establish him as an international star with the development of an animated series and to use his popularity to promote educational messages.

Laila Suhail, chief executive of the shopping festival office, said that the success of Modhesh had surprised his creators and that, with licence agreements in place to extend the brand, he had an important role to play in promoting tourism and the UAE's image abroad. "Modhesh began life as a character in a short television commercial promoting the [shopping festival] 10 years ago," she said. "He is based on a traditional jack-in-the-box character and his bright colour and wide smile represent the fun spirit of the DSF and also the vitality of the UAE as a nation."

In 2007 it was decided to develop the character as a brand in its own right, with the focus on educational products such as school stationery. "His popularity quickly grew and now there are 600 Modhesh products sold across the GCC and beyond," Ms Suhail said. In particular, Modhesh appealed to children, she said, and his image helped promote healthy foods, such as fruit juices. "We also launched a range of electronic learning games to help develop children's skills, such as numeracy and literacy," she added.

His role as an educational figure can be seen at Modhesh World, a large indoor theme park at Dubai Airport Expo that is marketed as an "edutainment" attraction. As well as a range of entertainers, from a unicycle music parade to baroque roller-skating dancers, the event also incorporates educational zones promoting local heritage and arts and crafts. According to Ms Suhail, Modhesh has the potential to be a powerful champion for children and education in the GCC.

"This year Modhesh has embarked on a goodwill tour of hospitals across the GCC," she said. "He visits children with disabilities and gives them gifts. He has proved very popular with the children and we are looking to arrange further visits in the future." Although the Modhesh character is owned by the shopping festival and has a primary role of promoting the festival and Summer Surprises events, he is now such a familiar sight across Dubai that he is becoming almost synonymous with the city itself.

Modhesh has not been formally adopted as the emirate's mascot, but government departments and the Dubai airports are represented on a committee encharged with finding ways in which the character can help tourism. Modhesh is the first "person" visitors arriving at Dubai International Airport meet, and they see his wave of welcome several times from the road before they reach their hotels. However, although the shopping festival is proud that its creation is helping boost tourism, it wants to hang on to him.

"Modhesh is becoming increasingly recognised outside of the UAE and we have licensed products for sale throughout the GCC and beyond," Ms Suhail said. "He is not a national symbol but his image and popularity have become linked to Dubai, especially during the DSF." Modhesh is not the only character to be developed in the UAE to find international popularity. Other local creations, such as JumJum the camel and the stars of the Freej cartoon, have helped to establish the UAE as an emerging centre for animation and character development.

tbrooks@thenational.ae