x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Love him or hate him, there is no escaping Dubai's Modhesh

The shopping mascot Modhesh is coiled, ready to spring into action, to the delight of children, but the irritation of some adults.

The Modhesh mascot will dominate TV ads and malls during Dubai Summer Surprises.
The Modhesh mascot will dominate TV ads and malls during Dubai Summer Surprises.

The shopping mascot Modhesh is coiled ready to spring into action, to the delight of children, but the irritation of some adults. Love him or hate him, the grinning symbol of Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), will once again be part of Dubai's summer scenery. As the two-month shopping festival gets under way on Thursday, images and adult-sized models of Modhesh - a smiley jack-in-the-box character - will dominate TV adverts, shopping mall interiors, and even grass verges at the side of streets.

That fills Sherif Abaza, a 29-year-old Egyptian, with dread. In 2004, Mr Abaza, a Dubai resident and the owner of an events management company, started a Facebook group to express his dislike of the yellow character. The Death to Modhesh site has attracted about 1,000 members, outstripping the popularity of the Modhesh is Innocent, Long Live Modhesh and Friends of Modhesh support groups. "It looks like a cross between the Michelin Man plus a Smiley face," said Mr Abaza. "But then you get the hands, which look like Mickey Mouse."

To Mr Abaza and his group, the character has been over-marketed, leading to the current state of antipathy. "You can't avoid it. It gets annoying. He even has this nasally annoying voice and it gets to me." Mr Abaza said, however, that even he has been shocked by the graphic violence that Modhesh haters have posted to the site. Images show Modhesh being hanged, thrown in the rubbish, beaten, decapitated, set on fire, strangled and imagined as the lead figure in the gruesome thriller, Saw.

"I've never seen anyone in the world display this violent a reaction against a mascot," he said. "People don't react this way against Mickey Mouse." For the past decade, Modhesh has been the mascot of DSS, a shopping festival aimed at boosting consumer spending during the slow summer months. The office of the Dubai Shopping Festival, which also runs DSS, said the Modhesh brand was in the process of being expanded and could become a worldwide phenomenon, promoting Dubai.

The office said in a statement that Modhesh "will be repositioned as a global brand that is associated with fun, excitement and adventure delivered through entertaining and educational events and activities, as well as through games, toys and other high-impact merchandise that will strengthen Modhesh as a brand, and make him more engaging for children". Laila Suhain, the chief executive of the Dubai Shopping Festival office, said Modhesh "represents good values for kids. Fun, excitement and adventure".

She said the DSF office was aware of the anti-Modhesh internet campaigns. However, she said the character was designed to appeal to children rather than adults. The Modhesh reaction proved equally puzzling to shoppers at the Mall of the Emirates, which is a hive of DSS activities. "I don't like [Modhesh] as a look," said Michael Pokroy from South Africa, who said he was in his thirties, a lifestyle designer for hospitality companies. "As a brand, it has power. It has stuck and become an object. It is something that people do recognise.

"If I hate it or I like it, the object has worked as a message because it's drawing my attention." Rebecca Clarke, 31, from the UK, who was visiting Dubai for the first time, said: "He seems quite chirpy. He has a nice smile." When told that the character had inspired intense dislike, she added: "That surprises me a little, but I wouldn't be shocked." jgerson@thenational.ae