UAE’s Top Brands: How Emirates beat WhatsApp, Apple, Samsung

Apple’s first stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi helped it edge past arch-rival Samsung in 2015

A $20 million marketing campaign featuring Jennifer Aniston and a sinking global oil price reflecting positively on air-ticket prices paired with a superb world-class service ethos made Dubai-based Emirates airline jump to the top of the latest Annual BrandIndex Buzz Rankings.

The rankings of the UAE’s hottest brands, by research firm YouGov, show that Emirates knocked last year’s leader Samsung off the top pedestal so hard that it fell to No. 4, behind arch-rival Apple and mobile messaging app WhatsApp.

BrandIndex is a measure of brand perception among the public in the Middle East region, and YouGov says it tracks over 400 brands across 17 sectors simultaneously in the UAE to arrive at the Top 10.

The rankings, it says, are based on brand Buzz scores which are calculated by asking respondents if they have heard anything positive or negative about a brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news, word-of-mouth or friends and family. They measure recent brand sentiment and also indicate the level and direction of recent awareness (positive or negative) about a brand.

#1 Emirates: Soaring above all else

Last year’s runners-up Emirates is this year’s winner thanks to the positive perceptions it generated among UAE residents in 2015. The world’s fifth best airline (rated in the world’s Top 100 Airlines 2015 report) knocks Samsung off the top of the rankings to take the helm as the UAE’s most positively perceived brand for 2015. The past 12 months saw Emirates launch a $20 million global marketing campaign featuring Hollywood superstar Jennifer Aniston, which has generated over 5.6 million views on YouTube and positive sentiment amongst UAE residents. A declining global oil price ought to have helped the airline in keeping a lid on ticket prices even as Emirates’ world-class service remains unmatched in the industry.

Read: Emirates confirms it's now F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with Jennifer Aniston

#2 WhatsApp: What’s up?

A new entrant to the annual Top 10 list this year, WhatsApp remains positively perceived by UAE residents even though the app had to remove the free voice calling function in the UAE owing to local regulations. In the UAE, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls are the legal domain of licensed telecom operators (etisalat and du). Nevertheless, Facebook-owned WhatsApp is now the world’s most popular instant messaging app with over half a billion users in the past year.

Read: Free WhatsApp Voice Calls in UAE: TRA clarifies what's allowed

#3 Apple: A byte a day…

The Cupertino-based Apple Inc. is a master of hype, turning every move it makes into a legend of sorts. Even as it turned out that neither of the two stores it opened in the UAE last year were world’s biggest, the build-up to the launch and the secrecy surrounding the location and size of the stores created such a buzz that brand Apple jumped three slots in 2015 to secure a place among the Top 3 brands in the UAe in 2015. The firm caused quite a stir amongst consumers when it opened its first retail stores in the entire Middle East region at Mall of the Emirates, Dubai and Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi in October 2015. That together with the launch of the iPad Pro, iPad Mini 4, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus in the past year has no doubt helped the tech innovator to climb the rankings since this time last year. It will be interesting to see if its new on-the-ground presence will help Apple climb further over the coming six months or if rival Samsung will steal a march back on it.

Read: Inside Dubai's Apple Store: It isn't world's biggest, but... [video]

#4 Samsung: Down, but not out

You can fault Samsung for a lot of things, but you can’t fault it for not trying hard enough. Despite a number of aces up its sleeve – like winning 38 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 Innovation Awards, launching a range of new smartphones and wearables including the Note 5, Galaxy s6 and the Gear S2 smartwatch, and unveiling a ‘Next is Now’ marketing blitz featuring British singer-songwriter Rita Ora – South Korean major Samsung slipped three slots from its top perch to land at No. 4 in the UAE in 2015. Nonetheless, the tech giant still holds positive appeal in the minds of consumers, and we won’t be surprised if it doesn’t force a re-entry into the Top 3 this year.

Read: Samsung Galaxy Note5, S6 Edge+: 6 killer features, 1 fatal flaw

#5 Google: Okay Google, what’s Alphabet?

In August 2015, Google rebranded itself as Alphabet, a new holding company whose largest wholly owned subsidiary is now Google. This was confusing enough for search giant Google to slip from third to fifth place since the end of 2014. Nevertheless, it remains in the Top 5 thanks to a range of new services including Android Pay, the all-new Android Marshmallow operating system and a Google Photos upgrade. It remains to be seen, however, if Google’s consumer products such as the updated Nexus smartphones and Chromecast media players can make a sizeable impact on the regional market.

Read: Google just gave birth to its mother and called it Alphabet

#6 Facebook: Share this

The most popular social networking site in the world continues to secure sixth place in the UAE rankings since entering the top 10 in 2014. Facebook continued to make the global headlines in 2015 with its aggressive acquisition strategy, buying 5 technology start-ups including QuickFire and Surreal Vision.

Read: How Facebook cracked the cash code: Mobile ads up 99%

#7 iPhone: Can you hear me now?

Such is the power that Apple holds on us UAE residents that it features not once but twice in the Top 10 brand rankings in the country. Apple-proxy ‘iPhone’ stands strong in seventh place after making positive waves with the launch of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with record sales and rave reviews. Print and TV advertisement campaigns highlighting the product’s 3D Touch and 4K filming features have also helped to keep the iconic smartphone brand in the top 10. Despite Apple not holding a launch event in the country, there was no dearth of eager UAE residents watching the unveil ‘live’ on their MacBooks and iPhones.

Read: Apple's iPhone 6s invite-only launch: Here's your pass in

#8 YouTube: Buffering for now

Video-sharing website YouTube makes its UAE brand index debut this year thanks to a surge in the bandwidth that UAE residents have begun consuming. Having grown its user-base to over a billion in 2015, there’s no surprise to find YouTube making its annual rankings debut in eighth. The video-sharing platform's viewing hours have grown by 60 per cent year-on-year (global). A redesigned mobile app and rumours of ad-free subscription service YouTube Red entering the region no doubt helped win favour with UAE consumers. YouTube also unveiled a beta version of its service, Music Key, a long-awaited upgrade of its music offerings that will, among other things, play music even if you’re not connected to the Internet.

Read: Watch YouTube videos without net connection

# 9 Etihad Airways: Waiting in the wings

The national airline of the UAE, and now the world’s sixth leading airline (rated in the world's Top 100 Airlines 2015 report) is a brand new entry in ninth place. Etihad Airways got the conversation started with the launch of Dh73,000 (one-way, starting fare) of its 3-room ‘Residence’ in the sky class, and then followed it up with an ad campaign featuring Australian actress Nicole Kidman.

Read: Etihad unveils 3-room suites in the sky

#10 Emaar: Solid as ever

2015 may not have been be a great year for UAE’s property market in general, but that didn’t stop Dubai-based master developer Emaar Properties from holding on to its slot in the Top 10. The last 12 months saw Emaar concentrate on driving its corporate social responsibility initiatives with the launch of the Emaar Foundation. Continued expansion with real estate projects such as the Dubai Hills Estate and Dubai Creek Harbor also appears to have helped sustain positive perception amongst consumers. The New year’s eve saw Emaar-owned The Address Downtown hotel go up in flames, but the developer was largely lauded for its quick response and handling of the fire that resulted in no loss of life and minimal loss of property. Owing to a general market decline, the Dubai-listed master developer saw its share price slip below the Dh5-mark just recently, but the firm continues to announce new projects with an eye on its bottomline.

Read: Emaar shares slip below Dh5

UAE Top 10 Buzz Rankings 2015

The three new entrants in the Top 10 brands listing this year (#2 WhatsApp, #8 YouTube and #9 Etihad) show the dynamic nature of brand perception in the UAE and why it pays to be on top of the consumer’s fickle mind. For those wondering, the drop-outs this year included Carrefour (ranked at No. 5 last year), Dubai Mall (ranked at No. 8 last year) and Almarai (ranked at no. 9 last year).


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