Superlatives never last.
Brands that rely solely on being the biggest, fastest, or newest
are quickly forgotten after their inevitable migration to second
place. The only way for a brand to avoid this is to transcend
history—by becoming an icon. That was the challenge we put before
Our client was planning the Burj Dubai-the tallest structure
ever built and the centerpiece of a 500-acre, $20 billion mixed-use
development called Downtown Dubai. As radical as it was to build on
this scale, our client knew that its tower would eventually be
surpassed. Landor proposed building something that would not—the
Burj Dubai brand.
There have been a handful of buildings that were once the
world’s tallest and were later eclipsed in height but not in
fame—the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and closer to our
client's home, the Great Pyramid of Giza. With those intimidating
icons as benchmarks, Landor began strategic planning.
Even before the foundation was poured, an auction was scheduled
for apartments that would one day fill the tower. With nothing
tangible to show bidders, the auction became a test of one of
Walter Landor’s guiding principles: “Products are made in the
factory, but brands are made in the mind.” At this point, the
“product” didn’t exist. So we invited prospective bidders to
experience the brand.
We fashioned a multisensory presentation center, wrote books and
designed websites, had invitations etched, fragrances concocted,
and parties thrown. A blazing Dubai sun finally rose on the first
day for apartment bids.
There was no second day. In less than 24 hours, every
apartment-to-be was spoken for, netting more than half a billion
dollars. Even by the heady standards of the region, the branding of
the Burj Dubai was off to an exceptional start.
Strategy: Aiming higher
Working closely with Emaar, we soon saw that the Burj Dubai had
the potential to be the centerpiece not just of Dubai, but of the
entire region. It could showcase a Middle East often overlooked by
the world media—a place that is dynamic, prosperous, and a center
of global cooperation. Researching this idea led to the key insight
that drove all our creative work:
This brand was not about constructing the world’s highest
building. It was about achieving the world’s highest
In a word, the Burj Dubai brand was about preeminence. Not just
in terms of luxury-though it aimed to set new standards there—but
in terms of design, craftsmanship, and international teamwork. As
our branding work progressed, building the tallest structure in
history became almost an afterthought, one more manifestation of
the driving force behind the brand.
Scope: The Burj Dubai experience
Landor was chosen in part because of our success with
comprehensive branding programs. Even so, the scope of this project
presented novel challenges.
The sheer range of applications required in a very short time
was daunting. So was the requirement for an identity system that
could work at almost any scale and with any media. It had to
communicate the brand idea instantly on building fronts, signs,
vehicles, ads, and uniforms, and appear equally elegant whether on
hand-delivered event invitations or on hard hats at the
construction site. Web presentation and other digital media had to
be groundbreaking yet refined. The sales center and print materials
needed to stand apart from anything the oversaturated Dubai market
had yet witnessed.
Above all, it was essential that the superhuman scale of this
project still communicate on human terms. For prospective visitors,
workers, residents, and a growing worldwide audience, all the
various pieces needed to come together as a single, differentiating
Burj Dubai experience.
Identity: Uniting a complex brand
Landor created a minimalist wordmark to serve as the brand
identity: two thin juxtaposed lines meeting near one corner of the
identity. At the most basic level, the spare drawing represents the
vertical tower rising above Dubai's broad coastal plain. As the
tower grows and eventually dwarfs all other buildings around it,
this symbol will take on its full significance.
The brand identity stands for nothing less than a new set of
coordinates on the globe, a new standard and orientation not just
for Dubai, but for the Middle East. Metaphorically, the two lines
redraw local longitude and latitude, establishing a new Greenwich
or a contemporary point of reference for understanding this part of
the world. Launch materials put it this way: “Throughout history,
only a few structures have had the power to change history. And the
This sophisticated linear approach was extended into a
comprehensive design style to reinforce the brand’s concept of
preeminence. The wordmark, typography, look and feel, voice and
imagery, and even color palette reflect prestige. In contrast to
the over-the-top golds and bright colors prevalent in other Dubai
premier developments, Landor chose understated tones echoing the
buildings’ finishes of stainless steel and aluminum and set them
off with a sharp green accent inspired by the carpenters’ levels
found in the hands of hundreds of architects, engineers, and
craftspeople building the tower.
Immersive environment: Bringing visitors to their senses
To communicate life inside an as-yet-unbuilt icon, Landor was
asked to create a showpiece sales center. Designing this
environment posed many unusual challenges. Chief among them was how
to use a two-story building to convey Sky Living—a new standard of
international luxury that the Burj Dubai sought to define at a
height as yet unattained by man-made structures.
Landor’s solution was to create a multisensory, multimedia
journey, immersing visitors in an alluring brand experience. Black
granite dominates the exterior and entrance, with sharp green
architectural accents. After passing through a hushed, darkened
entry, visitors come to a wonder wall-a towering display that
places this project in a historical context with other icons.
Next, an elevator creates the sensation of lifting residents to
their homes high above the city. The doors open to the future: a
fully furnished apartment with panoramic renderings of the Dubai
skyline in surrounding windows and a wall of sensual amenities.
Then around a corner, visitors look up in surprise.
In front of them, in a double-height gallery, an 11-meter
replica of the Burj Dubai tower literally pushes through the
ceiling of the first floor. Viewers are invited to climb to the
second level to get a full view of this dramatic display, bringing
them discreetly to understated sales offices. In line with the
project's exclusivity, the presentation center is open only by
Publications: Something to hold on to
Each visitor is given a large, flat case of burnished metal.
Inside are twin brand presentations that look more like
coffee-table books than standard launch brochures. One captures the
feeling of life inside the tower. The other showcases the lavish
amenities tenants can expect from living in the Burj Dubai. Key
statements appear both in English, the project's mother tongue, and
in flowing, custom-designed Arabic characters.
No matter how ambitious or costly a project is, no branding
program can succeed unless the brand behind it delivers on its
promises. The Burj Dubai and its surrounding development are on
track to surpass these requirements, aiming to be nothing less than
the most prestigious square kilometer on the planet. Indeed, the
project's branding, amenities, design, and services have already
attracted landmark tenants, including the first-ever hotel and
residences designed by Giorgio Armani.
Even as the tower is being constructed, the Burj Dubai brand
already represents a formidable competitive advantage for Emaar
Properties. Helped in part by the strength of this iconic brand,
Emaar continues to achieve substantial profit and expansion, most
recently reporting 25 percent revenue growth for 2007.
Long before opening day, the dusty framework of the partially
finished tower climbed above all other buildings ever built. After
a pause of many, many centuries, the claim to the world’s tallest
structure is returning to the Middle East. It won’t be nearly as
long before someone attempts a taller one—perhaps even in the same
city. But before that happens, the Burj Dubai will have defined a
new standard of global excellence and cooperation, and will have
taken the concept of the total brand experience—in every sense—to