Being a long-term Middle Eastern marketer with the bulk of my experience being in Dubai, I note with interest any new marketing communication messages or advertisements that start over here. Call it a professional courtesy, but I usually keep my thoughts to myself, especially if it is negative. That all changed last week as I was driving down Sheikh Zayed Road up towards Dubai Internet City. Mainly, what caught my attention was the unipole (billboard) that was advertising the Metro in the Arabic language.
Why? Because a mistake had occurred which I expected anyone with common sense to spot right away (the only other condition is that they read and understand the Arabic language). The tagline that was used was literally translated: “The Metro is my choice!” which was I presume the intention of the message, thus encouraging all people, and especially the middle-class and blue collar workers to utilize the Metro instead of driving. So what is wrong? Well, it was also saying: “The Metro is optional” which directly contradicts with the former message. To elaborate, the same spelling for the written word in Arabic can mean different things depending upon the pronunciation. An equivalent in English is words like brake and break which sound the same but mean different things according to how they are spelt.
Although I find it amusing, this blooper should have been spotted by the hundreds of thousands of Arabs that drive on this busy road every day. Either they have not noticed this or they display apathy towards alerting the Metro to it or apathy with the Metro in general which is far more serious. Or the Marketing department at Dubai Metro is afraid to own up to the mistake for fear of retributions from their superiors. That is a pity, but only conjecture from my end and a topic that deserves further discussion.
There is also a broader topic of which incident touches upon; the limited knowledge of Arabic that exists amongst the marketing/communication/advertising industry within Dubai. This problem has existed for a long time. Knowledge and experience with the Arabic language is fading as more and more within the business world communicate daily in the English language. Why do we allow it to happen? What are the long-term repercussions of such a decision?