• Transform magazine
  • October 23, 2017

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Transform Awards: Yas Island

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Recent winners at the Transform Awards MENA, Yas island and Start worked to create a new place brand for a leisure destination on one of Abu Dhabi's islands

For centuries, scientists, cartographers and explorers have been mapping the world, achieving in the modern era, a comprehensive survey of almost every place on the globe. But, in 2006, Aldar Properties sought to create a new place entirely.

Yas Island was built in Abu Dhabi prompting the development of the more than 25 sq km of new land off the United Arab Emirates coast. For the past few years it has operated as little more than a collection of attractions, featuring some of the world’s most successful brands. But with future expansion plans and the need to improve understanding within the tourism market, Yas Island’s developer Miral Asset Management turned to Dubai-based brand consultancy Start to begin work on a new brand.

Mike Curtis, president of Start, says the island had only a loose naming style, but that its brand was mostly passive. “They were building signi cant entertainment destinations, all located on one island in Abu Dhabi. But it had never been positively or proactively marketed as a destination,” he says.

The objectives were threefold: to build awareness of Yas Island, to increase visitor numbers and to increase the length of stay and number of experiences visited. Simple enough.

Except Yas Island is home to Ferrari World, Ikea, the Warner Bros. theme park, a waterpark, a shopping mall, a racetrack, a golf course, a beach, live entertainment venues, eight hotels, a shuttle service and more. Building a cohesive brand architecture that could unite those strong brands while still giving Yas Island itself a strong identity was a challenge. Crafting the brand required Start to put Yas Island on the map.

The agency undertook qualitative and quantitative research in key markets as well as research into competitor destinations, globally. It also looked into the combined brand and business value of all assets on the island by working with brand valuation rm Brand Finance. The insights from those detailed studies, as well as stakeholder research, provided the basis from which the work on the brand began.

The research found that Yas Island had an existing reputation because of its location in the UAE. “There’s an expectation in the market that because it’s in the UAE, that it would be an elevated, best of the world experience,” Curtis says. He adds that there were additional expectations around culture. Visitors expect that a trip to Yas Island will allow them to engage with and understand Emirati culture. But the biggest challenge unveiled by the research was that each of the attractions on Yas Island had, to that point, been marketed independently.

Bringing those insights together with the objectives Yas Island had for its growth, and considering Abu Dhabi’s own economic vision, Start developed a brand positioning for the island. It revolved around the concept of quality time. “People want to get the most out of their holiday. One of the realities in the market is when people are looking at destination travel, there is always a level of compromise on where they’re going and what they’re doing,” Curtis says. “What makes Yas Island differentiated is that there’s something for everyone.”

Making that positioning come to life, Start designed a logo and visual identity that has a strong sense of motion, bold colours and people-centric imagery. The word ‘Yas’ is written in free- owing calligraphic script in a texture that evokes thick paint. As one colour blends into the next, the word Yas is spelled out, left-to-right in English and right-to-left in Arabic. The painted line extends throughout the visual identity, drawing all the assets together and creating a device that ably translates to different settings.

“The bold colours and the con dent executions were about creating as much visibility and stand out as possible,” Curtis says. “Yas Island has some powerful brand assets, so it needed to be able to represent the collective and stand on its own feet against them.”

It was also versatile enough to communicate with audiences around the world; key markets include Saudi Arabia, China and Europe. The identity’s exibility allows for multiple languages to be used across print, digital, outdoor and wayfinding assets.

Implementing the brand around the island required an astute examination of the brand architecture in order to ensure that the Yas Island brand would not get lost among the others on site nor would it overwhelm them. Complicating this further is that some of the venues on the island bear the name ‘Yas’ as well. The new brand needed to “sit above the opportunities and the experiences that the island has. It needed to be a strong piece of design work to hold its own against those other brands,” Curtis says. To get it right, Start had to understand the customer journey before, during and after visiting the site to ensure that the brand resonated at every touchpoint.

But Miral was not the only group that had an interest in the project. The brands that owned the various attractions on Yas Island also had an interest in the development of the new brand. Thus, Start implemented an internal engagement project called One Yas. The network allowed Start to communicate about the brand’s progress among all the relevant stakeholders. Its effectiveness contributed to a successful launch, Curtis says. The launch, in September 2016, has been received well by Yas Island’s brands and Miral is in the midst of its development work to further improve the experiences on the island.

The world may be nearly completely mapped, but there are those who are creative, inventive and brave enough to create new places entirely. Like the cartographers of old who gave names to places, today brands must do the job of making a place into a destination.

Miral Asset Management and Start won the Grand Prix at the Transform Awards MENA 2017. The team also took home gold awards in the ‘Best visual identity in the travel leisure and tourism sector,’ ‘Best implementation of a brand development project across multiple markets,’ and ‘Best internal communications during a brand development project,’ ‘Best place or nation brand,’ and ‘Best use of typography’ categories and won silvers in the ‘Best brand development to re ect changed mission/values/positioning’ and ‘Best creative strategy’ categories.