To the Max

The Burj Dubai

Very interesting to see this teaser in for a forthcoming exclusive interview with British PR supremo Max Clifford. Dubai needs a “softer image”, apparently. The place is “obsessed with money and wealth” and – worse – it’s also expensive.

Well, hold the front page.

We’ve been here before. A hundred years ago, a certain other city was on the rise. Tired, poor and huddled masses were pouring in, sometimes seeking refuge, often seeking fortunes. The established powers looked at the city and snorted in contempt, dismissing it as brash, frenetic, soulless, money-grubbing. Technological advances, and less pressure on land space, meant that the upstart was able to construct the highest buildings in the world, frequently while in pursuit of power, prestige and some element of uniqueness.

Take a look at this, from a recent book about one of those buildings:

…a vulgar contraption for producing a profit… a dubious expression of corporate power, egregious advertising… an aggressive assault on [the city’s] new signature skyline…

Sounds familiar. It was written about  New York in the 1910s – but now we’re saying the same things about Dubai in the 2010s. I’ve lost count of the number of press articles – both travel stories and serious feature pieces – lambasting Dubai for its shallowness.

The Burj Dubai – the tallest building in the world (pictured) – is only what the Empire State Building once was.

The comparison doesn’t always fit – those huddled masses arriving at Ellis Island, for instance, were not denied citizenship, their culture marginalized by a ruling minority with entrenched powers based on ethnicity – but the attitudes of the outside world are strikingly similar.

Look at what New York became – then imagine what Dubai (and Abu Dhabi, and the rest) might become, if they could only match economic reform with political.

Cuddly old Max Clifford thinks Dubai needs a new image. This says more about him, and the priorities of PR, than it does about Dubai – or the real needs of this 21st-century NY-on-the-Gulf.