The Saatchi chief charged with helping Dubai fall in love with its transport system believes every brand has the power to inspire loyalty beyond reason.
My city, My Metro, My slogan
Nike has "Just do it". Coca-Cola had "It's the real thing". Now, some of the most brilliant minds in advertising have come up with the slogan that will sell the new driverless Metro system to the people of Dubai.
Saatchi & Saatchi, the international consultancy, brought in its creative Tribe team to carry out the brainstorming and after many cups of coffee and much discussion these four words emerged: "My city. My Metro." On the face of it, the phrase might seem underwhelming. Do not be deceived. Over the coming weeks and months those four little words will be nibbling into your consciousness. Backed by an extensive advertising campaign, they will soon be instilling a warm glow in your being. They will help to give the sprawling suburbs and disparate communities of Dubai a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership and in so doing bring their residents a little closer together.
At least, that's the plan. Of course, persuading commuters in a city where the car is king to switch to shiny new Metro carriages was never going to be the easiest of briefs. But for Kevin Roberts, the worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, who took on the challenge of making Dubai's drivers change their habits, "every brand has the power to inspire loyalty beyond reason". The concept, which he calls "lovemarks", was described in his book of the same name in 2004. "Great brands infiltrate your life and your identity," he wrote. With lovemarks the appeal was emotional. "People love them because of what they are, not because of what they do. Companies may own brands, but lovemarks are owned by the people who love them."
The "My city. My Metro" campaign fits that concept perfectly with its objective of instilling in commuters a sense of ownership and pride. Indeed, the Metro's creators are hoping it will become as instantly recognisable a symbol of Dubai as the Burj al Arab. The brief is to get 17 per cent of Dubai's 1.5 million residents to rely on the Metro by 2020. According to the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Saatchi & Saatchi was chosen last November because it best matched the RTA's vision in "creating a sense of belonging, ownership and pride for the people of Dubai".
The contract is said to be worth at least Dh10 million (US$2.7m) and the advertising firm has wasted no time in pulling out all the stops, and no media outlet has been left untapped. From newspapers and television to radio advertisements in several languages, billboards, postcards and even YouTube, Facebook and tweets on Twitter, the campaign team has targeted every age and social group. From July, advertisements began appearing in newspapers while radio characters speaking in English, Arabic, Hindi and Malayalam told how they were planning to catch the train.
"My city. My Metro" spearheads a campaign that will involve 17 key messages being rolled out over the coming months while the company's big guns have all been involved in the creative process - Mr Roberts himself flew into Dubai from his New Zealand home last week to brainstorm with executives in the company's Middle Eastern office. Over the past few days, illustrated posters on 17 aspects of the service have appeared on 100 lampposts along Sheikh Zayed road near the Mall of the Emirates.
One proclaims: "100% electric Metro system. 0% carbon emissions" alongside a picture of the line depicted as a vine with leaves twining its way through the city. In another, the Metro has morphed into a somewhat flashy gold chain which ends in the message "gold class", advertising the train's exclusive carriages at the front. "Welcome aboard one of the world's safest metros" shows the columns supporting the track transformed into dozens of pairs of hands cradling the line.
And in an illustration of the cabins reserved for women and children, the line has again been changed, this time into a jigsaw puzzle with the Metro appearing as a toy train. The posters were designed by Josh Cochran, an award-winning New York-based artist commissioned to illustrate the numerous selling points of the Metro. As well as his drawings appearing on lampposts, they have been distributed on 100,000 postcards at various events and exhibitions and e-mailed to one million people as part of a brochure explaining the service. A television advertisement created to accompany them will be broadcast on launch day next week.
But it is the RTA's online campaign that has elicited the biggest response. To attract a younger generation - about half the population of the UAE is aged under 30 - the organisation set up YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages to drip-feed information about the Metro. An invitation to residents to submit home-made videos explaining what the Metro means to them has attracted dozens of contributions while a YouTube video demonstrating how the system will work has received more than 55,000 hits.
Regular "tweets" with information on the progress of stations are being followed religiously by the Twitter community. The interest they have generated is being matched by postings on YouTube and Facebook from a new generation of trainspotters. Wobbly, grainy footage from construction workers involved in building the stations and tracks, and even long-distance sightings of trains being test-driven, have nevertheless sparked thousands of hits.
All great fun, of course, but it is a tall order for any advertising agency to generate instant loyalty, even one with Saatchi & Saatchi's pedigree and a chief executive as colourful as some of the advertising campaigns that made its name. As president of Pepsi-Cola's Canadian division in the late 1980s, Mr Roberts decided to make an impact by machine-gunning a vending machine belonging to Coca-Cola at a black-tie dinner attended by the Canadian prime minister.
He followed that stunt with another as chief operating officer at the Australian brewery Lion Nathan, formed after a merger. "No one could remember its name," he said. "When I walked in for my first meeting, I had a lion. I borrowed it from the zoo? No one forgot the name after that." His reckless streak has earned him a reputation as a maverick as well as a salary of Dh8.8 million a year. But can even his capacity for original ideas really persuade UAE residents to abandon their cars in favour of public transport?
Yes, if his company's history is anything to go by. As one of the world's top advertising agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi has had its fair share of high-profile clients, from British Airways and Procter & Gamble, to Toyota and Visa. Founded in 1970 by the brothers Maurice and Charles Saatchi, both born in Baghdad, it quickly became known in the early days as one of the more creative agencies in London.
By 1979, its executives were making a name for themselves with their "Labour's not working" mantra on an image of a seemingly endless line of people outside an unemployment office, which helped the Conservative party sweep the Labour government from power and install Margaret Thatcher as Britain's first woman prime minister. It is, however, Paul Arden, who joined as executive creative director in 1987, who is credited with creating some of Saatchi & Saatchi's most memorable work, including changing the fortunes of British Airways and turning it into "the world's favourite airline", still considered one of the greatest advertising campaigns ever.
In 1995, a boardroom coup saw the Saatchi brothers ousted from their own company. They promptly set up a new firm, M&C Saatchi, which has since won creative awards. The original Saatchi & Saatchi is said to be worth Dh2.2 billion, according to Adbrands.net, and recently netted a Dh1.6bn contract to represent the American store chain JC Penney. So expectations are riding high in Dubai. Ramadan Abdulla Mohammed, director of operations of the RTA's rail services, said recently: "The project is capable of transforming the behavioural pattern, lifestyle and thoughts of many people in Dubai."
Not least the local advertising industry, about which Mr Roberts has some less than flattering views. "Advertising creativity in the Middle East is not as high as maybe it should be," he told Emirates Business 24/7 recently. "Agencies should focus on [the fact] this is no longer about price or value or media. It's going to be about having an idea that touches the consumer's heart. "I think there is a tremendous amount of money being spent on outdoor advertising in Dubai that to me seems to be a waste. It is not touching the consumer at all.
"You should be looking for those kinds of media that engage, involve and attract your particular customer ? In the past, agencies here have been lazy because there has been growth, everybody made money and business moved in different ways. Now power has shifted to the consumer in this new world economy." As well as Mr Roberts, Saatchi's big guns on the Metro contract include Elias Ashkar, the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East and North Africa, and John Pallant, a regional creative director, whose Saatchi Tribe team came up with the campaign's main themes.
Tribe was set up after his research showed that creative people produce their best work when they form new teams, have just joined a new agency or are running out of time. Teams of three employees from offices around the world are subjected to two days of intense pressure, with brainstorming sessions lasting between 20 minutes and an hour. The result was a cross-cultural team from the UAE, Britain, Spain and America hammering out the essence of the Metro campaign round a table in Dubai.
Peyman Younes Parham, director of marketing at the RTA, said: "The ad campaign had to appeal to a global audience and be easily understood, so it helped having a team from four different countries. "They were tasked with incorporating 17 informative messages we wanted to get out to the public, such as gold class, fares and ticketing." The marketing campaign was first rolled out in April and will keep the momentum going until December.
Although its online aspects - YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - make it ostensibly a campaign for a new generation of web users, it will not appeal just to the younger set, according to Mr Parham, who said: "This is the future of communication. "We want to be at the forefront of communication and social networking is not just limited to a younger audience any more." Perhaps the last word should go to Mr Roberts. "A successful brand becomes irresistible," he said recently in a speech in Dubai. "We live in the age of the idea and the biggest idea at the moment is Dubai."