MEDIA | An Arab brand makes international headlines. What does it all mean, asks Ahmad Humeid
The news shocked the branding and marketing world. Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeerah has been voted the world 5th most influential brand in a poll of branding professional conducted by Brandchannel, an online magazine. Al-Jazeera came just behind Apple’s iPod, Google, IKEA and Starbucks, all of which are mega brands that net their owners billions of dollars each year.
But Al Jazeera still loses money and it still depends on subsidies from the state of Qatar to continue operations. Recent reports indicated that Qatar is thinking of selling the channel which is causing it political headaches. And although the Al Jazeera is watched by tens of millions around the world, it is largely shunned by global advertisers who are unwilling to associate themselves with a channel that is often at the center of political controversy.
While it is great to see an Arab brand making it to a top slot in the global branding game, one should not get too excited about that. A look at the other top brands in the list shows that they are money-making machines built on technological and business innovation. Their position of leadership has been built over decades of growth and development. In contrast, Al Jazeera’s brand has risen to prominence because our region has been the world’s burning trouble spot since September 11th 2001 and the subsequent wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
That’s not to say that Al Jazeera isn’t important. It almost single headedly revolutionized the Arab media landscape and proved that Arabs can create and run a global media organization. The good news about Al Jazeera’s brand cannot come at a better time for the channel’s owners if indeed they want to sell it to investors. Yet a new owner will have to figure out how to turn Al Jazeera’s brand into cash from advertising, licensing or content sales. That’s no easy task for a company whose annual budget is well over US$ 100 Million.
Looking at the Arab branding landscape one mostly sees a barren desert. Arabs have almost no representation when it comes to global brands. Look at the Koreans: Samsung, LG, Hyundai. Look at the Chinese: Haier, TLC (and soon many others). The Indians are also making branding waves, at least in the IT world with companies such as Infosys.
Arab companies with global brand aspirations include Thuraya, the UAE based satellite phone company, Dubai’s Emaar and perhaps also Jordan based Aramex, which, before going private again, was one of the few Arab companies to be listed on the NASDAQ.
Brand leadership is built on innovation, which sadly is not very abundant in the Arab world. Oil, not innovation has been the biggest Arab export over the past decades. And oil is sold in unbranded ‘barrels’. It remains to be seen which Arab company can go beyond oil and trouble reporting and create a truly innovative global brand.