A McLaren and Bentley for the masses in the UAE? Should luxury go mainstream?

The beauty about luxury is that it isn’t for everyone. Luxury is exclusive, it’s a statement of position. Luxury isn’t about function but form and beauty. Luxury automotives can cost more than a decent-sized house, and when you consider that the likes of Rolls-Royce only sold 3,630 cars in 2013 (which was a record year for them fyi), then one gets to truly understand how exclusive luxury is.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a couple of weeks ago adverts for Bentley with copy that read a Flying Spur could be mine for only AED11,514.00 per month – that’s about US$3,000). Few people would be able to afford a car worth about US$200,000 when new. While the payment option, spread over several years, makes sense financially, what harm does it do to the brand for those wealthy enough not to need financing? Would they want to see the car driven by the masses?

What does this sort of offer do to a brand such as Bentley? Does it help or harm the brand in the eyes of Bentley's original target audience?

What does this sort of offer do to a brand such as Bentley? Does it help or harm the brand in the eyes of Bentley’s original target audience?

It gets better. The same dealer in the UAE who sells Bentley also has the rights to McLaren. And what do you do with a supercar which costs over US$220,000? You offer it on installment at AED9,300 a month.

Do you have a spare 10,000 Dirhams to spare a month? Why not buy a McLaren supercar?

Do you have a spare 10,000 Dirhams to spare a month? Why not buy a McLaren supercar?

While brands nee to make money to survive and grow, what is the reputational cost and the impact on brand equity of such offers which change both a product’s positioning as well as its target audience? What are your thoughts? Is this a creative, original idea to build a brand? Or does it do more harm than good?

How to destroy a brand through poor communications – the Nakheel example


I’ll admit it. Every now and then I do get pangs of schadenfreude when I see brands being pulled up online by the media and the public. However, seeing a brand destroy itself is a different proposition.

I’ve been watching Nakheel for some time, and I’ve written about the company and its bad media habits before. The Dubai government-owned real-estate developer is responsible for some of the Emirate’s most iconic projects, including the Palm Jumeirah and The World. However, its customer service is, unfortunately, just as infamous as its successes are famous.

Last week, Sarah Townsend of Arabian Business wrote a scathing piece on Nakheel. Entitled ‘Nakheel PR: The toughest job in Dubai?’, she took a sledgehammer to Nakheel’s reputation The article is well worth a read, especially for those of us whom have spent long enough in the region to forget what quality journalism looks like.

If it were just one person taking aim at Nakheel, the issue would be manageable. However, due to our digital world reputation-bashing is a team sport. The article has gathered seventeen comments, all negative and some from disgruntled Nakheel owners. My favorite is the below.

A comment from a not-very-happy Nakheel property resident on the Palm

A comment from a not-very-happy Nakheel property resident on the Palm

On top of this, Nakheel is facing additional issues regarding its stalled Palm Jebel Ali project. However, it’s not the media which is causing trouble for Nakheel, but rather angry investors who have yet to see their properties take shape after years of delay. To quote from The National.

Hundreds of investors on Dubai’s Palm Jebel Ali have called on developer Nakheel to restart the project.

An estimated 400 to 450 people, most of whom made down payments during Dubai’s boom years between 2004 and 2008, find themselves in financial limbo.

All the units under the Palm Jebel Ali project, including its signature and garden villas and water homes, are “under cancellation”, according to Dubai’s Land Department.

In November, 74 homeowners wrote to Mohammed Al Shaibani, the head of the Ruler’s Court and Dubai Investment Authority, to look into the matter.

“The lack of certainty as to when our homes will be built has caused, and is causing, tremendous financial and emotional suffering for us and our families, and many of us continue to endure ongoing mortgage and rental costs while we are waiting,” the letter says. “Many of us have invested our life savings into the Palm Jebel Ali.”

Over a 100 Palm Jebel Ali owners have set up a group on Twitter with the handle @PJAOwners to lobby the government on their issue (bizarrely Nakheel doesn’t have an account on Twitter and there are several Facebook accounts, none of which seem to be legitimate).

For an organization which claims to be one of the largest and most successful property developers in the world, the media issues that Nakheel has gotten itself into are unforgivable (blacklisting the media doesn’t help). Having said that, many of the company’s issues are rather to do with how they operate. Public relations can never be used as a figleaf for unpopular or damaging actions. As Mark Twain said, “The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”

At the end of her article Townsend stated that Nakheel are looking for a PR exec to join their ranks. I could be even bolder and suggest that they look at how they do business and rebuild their reputation first. Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse and will continue to destroy what is left of Nakheel’s brand. I’m betting things will get worse for Nakheel in terms of its brand image and reputation. But I won’t take any pleasure from watching this sorry story of a brand being destroyed from within.