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11 December 2023

Marketing Abu Dhabi as a brand to the world

By Rami Eljundi



The Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi (Obad) is an initiative involving the emirate’s executive affairs and tourism authorities. It was given the task of creating a brand identity that captured the essence of Abu Dhabi, and also acts as the brand’s guardian and patron.
The design it came up with features the name ‘Abu Dhabi’ in English and Arabic and a distinctive dark red logo that can be set against a variety of background colours.


Branding is not something people usually associate with places – but an emirate is as much a brand as a consumer product, say experts.

Obad will help the government and private sectors understand the brand and to provide mechanisms for applying it in areas that may have an impact on Abu Dhabi’s reputation and economic prosperity.

General Manager Reem Yousif Al Shemari, in her first published interview, explains what the branding of Abu Dhabi is about.


How did the idea of an Abu Dhabi brand first start?


The brand is the first initiative of its kind in the region. Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority were mandated to define and position the emirate on the international map by creating a unique brand.


After two years of extensive research, including the use of focus groups both locally and internationally, we realised the brand of Abu Dhabi could be extended to other areas such as investment, cultural heritage and social life.
So when we took this to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of the Executive Council, he issued a council resolution to create Obad and to roll out the emirate’s identity.


Why was the colour heritage red chosen for the logo?


The colour palette has been derived from our culture and environment – the colours represent Abu Dhabi’s traditions and landscapes from the desert to the seaside, and our cities.

Heritage red is visually strong and works well with all the other colours in the palette, which are muted and calming. The logo has an immediate bilingual impact. The shape has been inspired by things that are uniquely Abu Dhabi, including our maritime heritage and the shape of a dhow sail.


What else is significant about the visual brand elements?


We designed a typeface that has been inspired by the centuries-old practice and beauty of Arabic calligraphy. We have called this proprietary typeface ‘Abu Dhabi’.

At first glance, the letter script appears Arabic, but a closer look reveals it is actually English. This might seem confusing to the Arabic eye but it has been developed specifically for a Western audience.


Can you say more about the research you carried out while designing the logo?


We conducted research in key tourism markets such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Australia. We also ran focus groups locally to get to know how individuals perceive themselves and the emirate.


What is the function of Obad?


It aims to assist governmental departments and private sector organisations across Abu Dhabi to integrate elements of the emirate’s brand into their own identities.


How do you set about achieving this?


Obad helps both the private and public sectors to review existing or draft logos, corporate identities and marketing materials to ensure they are aligned with the Abu Dhabi brand.

We provide guidance and counselling on how best to integrate various elements of the brand into visual applications as well as behavioural applications such as service standards and codes of conduct.


What challenges did you face prior to establishing Obad?


As an emirate we are seeing development on a vast scale and as we move forward we have to conserve our identity – otherwise we would be just like a normal city. By creating the brand we can preserve our identity.


What challenges have you faced in creating awareness of this concept?


The concept of branding a city, an emirate or a country is new in the region. We had the challenge of explaining the idea to people and organisations. But we were surprised by the feedback – those we spoke to embraced the idea. In addition, expressing the concept of a brand in Arabic was another challenge.


There is no direct translation of the word ‘branding’ so we had to create one. This has been achieved successfully. I think the challenges ahead will be working with organisations to help them understand the brand, feel it and live it, not just visually but literally, behaviour-wise and performance-wise.


Will Obad act as a watchdog or monitoring establishment?


Several companies’ representatives asked us this question in our first set of workshops in December. We want people to perceive us as an asset rather than as an organisation with a stick or iron fist.

People have been contacting us for consultations and advice – they show us what they have and are developing. We are here to review and issue suggestions and advice.


Our second role is monitoring the use of the brand and checking that it is presented in a consistent manner. Some companies may claim they are doing what is required but in fact there may be violations or disrespect to the brand and the emirate. We are the guardian and patron of the brand.


We provide assets and set out the requirements if a company or organisation asks us to. Our role is to guide people so they neither abuse nor misuse the brand.

If someone does misuse the brand we will contact them, work with them and find ways to project the brand properly. That is why we have creative consultants on board. Everybody has been co-operating and things do not happen overnight.


How many government and private sector representatives attended your first workshop?  


Almost 500 – and in addition we had students plus individuals who did not represent anyone but wanted to know how they could contribute.


What is the purpose of the workshops and when will the next ones be held?


We focused on the visual identity that is obviously so beautiful and took such a long time to design. We wanted to give a comprehensive briefing on the design, that was the core content. The next set of workshops will take place in a few months and we want to ensure they are informative.


How do you think Abu Dhabi will develop over the next five years?


I hope Abu Dhabi will be presented in a consistent and appropriate manner within the brand in both the government and private sectors. I would like it to be recognised worldwide as a tourism destination, attracting the right investors and right investments. We will also be working on the cultural heritage to preserve the identity of Abu Dhabi.


My ultimate vision – whether in an investment, political or cultural context – is that people live the brand. The combination of history, people and land makes Abu Dhabi unique. Remaining in contact with the roots of our heritage as we move forward is very important.


As an Arab and UAE woman, what are your feelings about holding such a job?


I am very proud as a UAE national to have the opportunity to work on an initiative that is shaping the future of the emirate. I would not have imagined five years ago that I would be in this position.


Reem Yousif Al Shemari

General Manager, the Office of the Brand of Abu Dhabi


Reem Yousif Al Shemari holds a masters degree in business administration and a bachelors degree in marketing from Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. She started her career at the university as a researcher at the Socio-Economic Centre.


In 2005 she moved to Mubadala Development Company as a senior communications officer. She played a major role in the development of Abu Dhabi’s first policy agenda and the development of the emirate’s brand identity before becoming General Manager of Obad.


In addition, Al Shemari is a director for the Abu Dhabi Media Zone and the Zayed University National Advisory Board for the College of Business Sciences.