Tapping into a building boom

With Middle East cities changing in front of our eyes, Richard Abbott looks at the importance of property advertising and how the leading players conduct their marketing

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By  Richard Abbott Published  January 15, 2006

Tapping into a building boom |~|world200.jpg|~|Out of this world... one island within Dubai’s The World project has been fully completed|~|It’s a hard life being an international megastar celebrity. With so many luxury properties to choose from in the Middle East, it’s an arduous task to choose where to invest your many millions. You could opt to buy a country on The World map in Dubai; or maybe a marina home on the Pearl of Qatar or Jeddah’s King Abdullah Economic City. Then again, you could invest in a sky-high apartment in the world’s tallest building, Burj Dubai. Oh, the agony of choice. Real estate is booming. Apartments are being sold while they are still on the drawing board — and they are sold on again before they are even built. And with so many developers fighting for their piece of the action, marketing has become an essential tool — from global branding campaigns for the likes of developers Emaar and Nakheel to classified ads to fill the latest residential developments. More money is spent advertising real estate in the UAE and Saudi Arabia than any other market sector, according to data from Ipsos-Stat. Figures for the year to September 2005 show that US$89.2 million was spent in the UAE, nearly double the amount spent on the nearest challenger, holiday resorts. In Saudi Arabia, the figure of US$54.4 million puts real estate ahead of evergreen advertising categories such as cars and banking. All of which has had sales directors and media buying agencies rubbing their hands with glee. Richard Billington, managing director of Wafi Communications, summed it up at a recent Campaign round table: “This is a boom city — and real estate is where the money is at the moment.” And Philip Jabbour, managing director of Starcom Dubai, says: “It’s a boom that everyone is riding. It is a growing category and for the foreseeable future it is going to be very busy and active.” The chief beneficiaries of the real estate boom have been print and outdoor media owners. Newspapers and magazines provide the opportunity for eye-catching DPS and gatefold ads, with a prime inside front cover spot ideal for flaunting your latest development. Meanwhile, developers use skyscraper sides and mega format billboards to make their message stand out from the clutter, competing not just on the scale of their architecture, but the size of their advertising. And of course, they can use hoardings around their own construction sites to great effect. Dubai Municipality has recognised the demand for real estate advertising and has made more sites available to advertisers, prompting inevitable comments about clutter. “Real estate companies have really started to believe in the power of outdoor,” says Sami al Mufleh, CEO at Hills Advertising. “They want to show muscle. Outdoor is something that clients like to see. It makes them feel the impact.” Jabbour agrees that outdoor and daily newspapers are the most important mediums for advertising real estate, arguing that the latter is used for its ‘news breaking’ presence. But he says that a lot of real estate communication is simply wasted. “There is a lot of wastage in this category, and a lot of it has to do with outdoing your competitor,” he says. “They fight for spaces when they could spend their money a lot more wisely.” Jabbour questions whether much of the brand advertising like roadside flags has the desired impact on the consumer. “It is over the top,” he says. “The logo is splattered all over the place. If you are going to use a tactical medium, you should use it tactically.” To counter wastage, he feels there is an opportunity to use other media that have not been traditional favourites for real estate clients. “TV is a vastly under-utilised opportunity for this market. I am sure there could be an opportunity in online, which, as a medium, is under exploited.” As far as creatives are concerned, the sky’s the limit when it comes to producing communication material for their real estate clients. The budgets are big — and the subject matter is even bigger. “They are always looking for something new and fresh, so we get a lot of creative licence. If they see an idea that they like, they will give you the budget to execute it,” says Mark Shadwell, creative director at Promoseven Relationship Marketing, who has been working with real estate giant Emaar — the company behind Burj Dubai and King Abdullah Economic City — for more than four years. The standard procedure for a large real estate client is to appoint a branding agency to come up with a logo and communication criteria for the project. Once this has been established, the advertising agency (or agencies) is brought in to produce marketing collateral, from flags and billboards to corporate brochures and direct mailings. For the branding agency, there is no limit on the superlatives that can be used to describe the subject matter. In the UAE alone, Burj Dubai uses the slogan ‘history rising’, while The Palm developments are modestly described as “the eighth wonder of the world.” The new airport development at Jebel Ali is somewhat unambiguously described as ‘world central’. Shadwell says: “The biggest challenge for us is that we are dealing with a product that doesn’t actually exist yet. The communication usually starts pretty early, but it becomes clearer as the project unfolds. “For some projects there are quite tight brand guidelines, right down to the layout grids. For other developments, they give us more leeway.” So how does Promoseven ensure that Emaar’s developments stand out in such a thriving and busy real estate market? Each development need to be differentiated from its rivals — both within Emaar and externally — despite the fact that many have similar benefits and amenities. “The brand name is an advantage to begin with,” explains Shadwell. “People still recognise them as being a company that you can rely on. That immediately gives us a head start. “Then it is about creating a USP for each individual project.” A well-used and surefire creative hit for a development that is still at the drawing board stage is to use artists’ impressions of the finished product. Aerial views have formed the backbone of the communication strategy for projects like The World, off the coast of Dubai (see box) and the recently announced King Abdullah Economic City in Jeddah. Jabbour, for one is enjoying the real estate boom. But he does offer a reality check. “The longevity of this boom is to do with the economics and politics of the region,” he says. “A lot of the investments being made in real estate these days are from foreign investors that may be less interested if there is something to worry about.” And Al Mufleh warns: “After we finish real estate, all multi-national companies will go back to normal budgets. This big balloon of advertising budgets will go back to normal.” While it lasts, the real estate boom is providing a colourful backdrop to the cities and suburbs of the Middle East. And it is a lucrative cash cow for advertising agencies, media buyers and – especially - media owners. For real estate developers, the only limit is their imagination.||**||Tapping into a building boom |~|worldmap200.jpg|~|The world|~|MARKETING STRATEGY: THE WORLD The World is billed as the most exclusive property development in... well, the world. Made up of 300 man-made islands strategically positioned to form the shape of the world map, it lies 4km off the coast of Dubai. And it will be visible from space. The marketing material is full of superlatives about it being the “ultimate destination” and “an engineering marvel not seen since Venice.” But behind this a team of marketers and PRs have been busy selling a niche project that only the planet’s elite can possibly afford. The islands range from US$6 million to US$45 million. For that, investors will have the freedom to create their own personal vision on the islands for private or commercial use. David Spencer, director of marketing and brand management for Nakheel, says: “We are targeting affluent individuals and companies. We are very selective about who we send our collateral material to. “We don’t use a broad-based marketing approach so we don’t use traditional mediums. We are attracted to media that feature products that are similar to ours, such as Bentley cars or Gulfstream jets.” Among the media that Nakheel considers as a good fit for The World are the luxury lifestyle magazine Robb Report and Cigar Aficionado, along with high-end car publications. “When we have a genuine enquiry, we then go into other areas of marketing collateral and we put on site visits.” The World is still at the land reclamation stage, but one island has already been fully developed, with a villa surrounded by lush greenery. “This island is a very important marketing tool for us,” says Spencer. “The people that we have taken there are blown away by it. And bear in mind that these people have been everywhere.” Construction of The World commenced in September 2003 and the islands are scheduled to be handed over to investors in 2008. As the development nears its completion date, Spencer says the marketing will change slightly. “It will become more reality driven,” he explains. “It will focus more on the logistics of how you get from island to island, for example.”||**||Tapping into a building boom |~|arabia200.jpg|~|City of Arabia|~|PR STRATEGY: CITY OF ARABIA GolinHarris was recently appointed to handle the PR strategy for City of Arabia, a multi-million dollar project being constructed in Dubailand on the outskirts of Dubai. The project, which is being developed by the Ilyas & Mustafa Galadari Group and is due to be completed in 2008, includes the largest shopping mall in the region, the Mall of Arabia; the Restless Planet, a dinosaur theme park with over 100 animatronic dinosaurs; and a 10km Wadi Walk. The project will, when completed, provide accommodation for around 40,000 residents. The agency’s PR strategy is to take each element of the project separately. Some projects are more hush-hush than others. Jane Daly, account manager at GolinHarris, explains: “With the mall, we have been going out to the international retail and property shows to promote it. For Restless Planet, the content will be released over time. It will be a gradual build-up. At the moment we are focusing more on the people involved, such as Jack Rouse Associates, who have built rides all over the world.” So how will the agency ensure that City of Arabia continues to be front-of-mind in a city where there is so much headline-making real estate development? Daly explains that the mall is unique because it is the largest in the region. And in a region where malls are increasingly developed with a standout attraction, communication material will focus on the fact that the mall will be circular in layout. GolinHarris is hoping to impress the client enough to see the project through to its completion and subsequent launch. “We have a year’s contract but we are hoping to be there at the end,” says Daly. “As the project moves on, we are getting to know more and more of the people involved.”||**||

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