The brains behind some of UAE's biggest brands

From the Burj Khalifa to the country’s first railway network, John Brash is the man in charge of putting them on the map

When John Brash was tasked with selling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa to the world, the last thing on his mind was skyscrapers.

The Scotsman envisaged the world’s tallest building not as a hunk of steel and glass, but as an aspirational lifestyle brand that had more in common with Armani or Gucci.

“We didn’t look at other tall buildings for inspiration, we didn’t even look at other real estate projects. It wasn’t about being the tallest building in the world, because that’s not a defendable position,” Brash recalls. “Someone else will ultimately build another tallest building in the world, two years down the line or 20 years down the line. We took Burj Khalifa as if it was its own luxury brand.”

Out of this concept radiated much of what is seen in Downtown Dubai today, with Brash in the driving seat when it came to the genesis of many high-end brands in the development, including the Dubai Mall, Armani Residences and the Address hotel.

Brash’s clients, through his Dubai-based agency Brash Brands, read like a roll call for the biggest and brightest in the UAE.

They include Emaar, Emirates Airline, Etihad Rail, TDIC and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.

The branding decisions made by Brash and his team have had a profound impact on each of these organisations, not in terms of how they present themselves to their customers, but also on each of theirs’ strategy and vision.

“People often ask me ‘what’s the difference between branding and advertising?’ What we do is something that will last at least ten years, if not fifteen years, 20 years or more. It’s the DNA of an organisation,” Brash explains. “We understand what makes that organisation tick. What makes one bank different from another one? It could be the leadership, the shareholders, which market they want to operate in.”

Originally from a small town equidistant from rival Scottish cities Edinburgh and Glasgow, Brash carved out a career in London working with prestigious brands including BP, McLaren F1 and Diageo. In 2003, Brash relocated to Dubai as executive creative director MENA at global consultancy Landor Associates.

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