(Integration was also a conscious part of the brand message. Sharma says that the bank took extra pains to look integrated, choosing among other brand expressions a British color scheme.)
By parallel analysis, Sharma and Williams argued that Mecca Cola, which has been marketed as a soft drink that makes an anti-Coke (or anti-Western) statement, tends to isolate Muslims by encouraging them to think of themselves as separate from a larger community. According to the two authors, many of the half-dozen Muslim cola brands launched after 9/11 attempted to address a sense of outrage in the global Muslim community at being vilified as terrorists in the West. The decision to purchase Mecca Cola, positioned as a Muslim alternative to Coke or Pepsi, might seem less about making a statement of faith than about identifying as a member of the Muslim community.
Perhaps even more significantly, Sharma says, "I think Mecca Cola is probably the nearest you would get to producing [a Muslim global brand] because it spans so many countries and it's kind of a fast-food product. You drink it and that's it. It's not like you've got to sign your life away like in a mortgage."
It is brands like Mecca Cola in the fast-moving consumer goods category that Sharma and Williams believe have the greatest potential for going global. There would appear to be some independent evidence for this conclusion. Of the top 18 global consumer brands in the Dinar Standard ranking, the largest category of global Muslim brands (28 percent) would appear to be fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), followed closely by transportation brands (22 percent). (This analysis assumes FMCG retail and food brands are taken together. Four of these brands considered by Dinar Standard served the food industry, four transportation, three consumer electronics, two the automotive industry, two finance, and one each retail, energy, and real estate.)
Still a Nascent Market
Whether or not one agrees that the development of a global Muslim brand is desirable, one question remains: why are there no such brands? Sharma traces this absence, at least in part, to three underlying social factors.
"One of the reasons might be the level of marketing sophistication of the Muslim communities," she says. "Having done work in the UK, there is an element of that quite clearly. Advertising-wise and branding-wise they are not as sophisticated as your mainstream British market or Black or Caribbean markets."
"Another thing might have to do with income and income distribution—whether brands actually thrive on having a certain level of disposable income," she adds. "The third thing might be where people are…. Particularly in the areas of food and cuisine, [these] cultures are much more commodity-based than brand-based."
Muslim brands may also face major barriers to acceptance in the non-Muslim world. "Many Muslim companies or brands—when they try to become global, face a challenge of the negativity that's around Muslims," Shikoh says. "There's an added challenge for companies trying to compete globally in many of these countries."
Shikoh thinks that most Muslim brands have been too focused on regional needs to ever evolve globally: "[They lack] the ability and vision to think big. When we talk about brands like Google or Apple—the brands that come out of the West or the US specifically—these are products or services that apply to everyone in the world. Right now [Muslim brands] are struggling to think regionally. Marketers, innovators, and entrepreneurs have to think big and see the world as an open marketplace."
Shikoh thinks the best examples of this type of thinking in the Muslim world can now be found in the Gulf countries—particularly in Dubai.
Where Middle East Meets West
Olivier Auroy, Landor Associates' general manager in Dubai, feels that although product and service branding in the country is less sophisticated and prevalent than in the West, it is the hub for the region and a place where new products and brands undergo trials. He adds that people from all over the region—Pakistanis, Iranians, and Saudis—frequently travel there in search of brands not available in their local countries.
"Dubai is a special case in the Middle East, as the native population only represents 10 to 15 percent of the total population," he says. "If international brands do not fulfill their needs, locals can always revert to their local brands. These may not always be as sophisticated as Western brands but locals are emotionally attached to them, as they are part of their everyday life."
According to Auroy, Dubai suffers from a "bestest" syndrome. "Local investors are obsessed with introducing products or developments that are the biggest, the tallest or the greatest," he says. "It sometimes seems Dubai is driven by the Guinness World Records."
Against that backdrop, two of Dubai's most successful brands are the Emirates Group (transportation) and Emaar (real estate). Dinar Standard describes the Emirates Group as one of the fastest growing brands in the world, and ranks Emaar as the largest real estate company in the world by market capitalization.
Both brands make efforts to appeal to global consumers while maintaining their Muslim identities. The Emirates airline, for example, serves international cuisine prepared to Islamic dietary standards. In-flight entertainment choices include films in ten different languages—with Arabic among them.
Auroy feels that overall, Emirates has an identity that is relevant and has impact. "People instantly recognize the Emirates identity and distinguished typography whenever they encounter the brand on TV or on a billboard," he says. "The airline's advertising style also stands out. It is inspiring, respectful and humorous."
Emaar's business operations, meanwhile, are reviewed by a four-member Sharia board for compliance with Islamic jurisprudence. But the company also builds homes in the US. Notes Auroy, "The Emaar staff is very brand-savvy. They fully understand what branding implies and are aware of the equity it can bring to their real estate developments."
In spite of the potential difficulties in competing with leading brands in established markets (three top brands control nearly 90 percent of the global beverage market, for example), Shikoh sees plenty of room for brands like Emirates and Emaar to reach the top tiers. "Today's innovative chaos environment can dislodge [top brands] quite easily, relative to what we had maybe five or ten years ago, where the barrier to entry was high in many industries," he says. "You have a higher probability of new types of markets and brands being created like Google, MySpace, and Friendster, and they impact other players globally."
As for Muslim brands with the greatest global potential, Shikoh says, "You have to look at regular product category players. Those are the likely front runners. Products or services that have global appeal are the only likely ones. In terms of what it will take for them to become global, it's all the standard things: having a very strategic approach to creating, managing, and growing brands globally."