When Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority set out to unify its brand, audio was a key priority. Working with MassiveMusic, it built a stronger brand experience through sound, winning a Transform Award in the process
The RTA oversees a massive network of roads, transport infrastructure and vehicles, signage and communications, buses and more. It is used by 1.3 million people per day. It helps keep the city of Dubai running for residents and visitors alike. But, until about four years ago, its brand was disjointed. It lacked a monolithic brand. But, with a rebrand in place unifying the organisation and its many touchpoints, the next thing to do was to create a cohesive brand experience.
“When you talk about a brand, it is not just what you see, but what you hear and what it feels like. That was where the thought of unifying how we sound came about,” says Rowdah Al Mehrizi, director – marketing & corporate communications at the RTA. But, implementing an audio brand that could stand for the city of Dubai – across all its many modes of transport – was no easy task. One of the first considerations was the type of sound to be implemented. Transport brands often turn to local musical cultures or traditional music, particularly in the Middle East. For Dubai, a city rooted in tradition but with a global future, that route wasn’t the most fitting.
To create and deliver the sonic brand, RTA worked with international creative music agency MassiveMusic. To clarify its approach to the RTA audio brand, the agency spoke with key stakeholders within the RTA. Instead of asking about those stakeholders’ music preferences – indeed a subjective, personal choice – they asked, ‘What represents the sound of the RTA?’
The resulting sonic logo is original and ownable. The hundreds of touchpoints that evolved out of it are clearly identifiable as part of Dubai’s transport system, while still offering multiple interpretations of that soundscape. For example, the sounds heard on marine transport differ from those of the tram, while still sharing similar characteristics. So too do social media assets sound different from those heard at business events or in corporate communications.
One of the responses informed the direction the audio brand’s strategy would take. It was the sound of the Metro leaving the station.
Anthony Vanger, global commercial director for MassiveMusic, had an idea that would capitalise on that response. He’d recently seen one of the agency’s audio engineers work with a new technology that could take ambient noises and transform them into music. He’d snapped a photo of the process and shared it with the team at RTA.
The audio brand would capture the sounds of Dubai and build 400 plus sonic touchpoints from them.
“We weren’t just making music for now. We were making it for the future. By recording the sounds of the city – specifically by recording the sounds of RTA and incorporating those sounds into the music – we were creating the sound of the future.”
We imported both percussive and musical sounds,” Vanger says. “For the percussive sounds like a taxi door closing we combined them with beats and drums and for the musical sounds, like the sound of the train leaving a station, we layered those sounds into real instruments.” The Metro trains whooshing out of the station were recorded. The electronic pass noises were recorded. The doors closing on the tram or trains, the sound of the city speeding by on a bus. These unique noises were indisputably the sounds of Dubai. They were inherently ownable, infinitely adaptable and eminently future-proof. “We weren’t just making music for now,” Vanger adds. “We were making it for the future. By recording the sounds of the city – specifically by recording the sounds of RTA and incorporating those sounds into the music – we were creating the sound of the future.”
That was an important objective for the RTA. Its visual brand overhaul was carried out with the same ethos in place. So its audio brand had to not just represent Dubai as it is right now, but be adaptable enough to function five or 10 years into the future. In developing the organisation’s sonic logo – arguably its most used and most recognised touchpoint – that strategy was incredibly important. The logo was named ‘future leap’ and, superimposed over an animated version of RTA’s wordmark, it delivers a future-forward feel. “We looked at what we have right now and created music that would last for a long time,” adds Al Mehrizi. “We wanted to ensure that we appealed to every target audience that passes through the doors of Dubai.”
Vanger likens this strategy to developing a film score, which appeals to different emotions throughout the course of the movie while still adhering to an overarching theme. “We do the same thing with a brand,” he says. “We think of a brand as a story. We use different instruments and different cadences and different beats to try to tell that story.”
Some of the RTA’s key brand attributes influenced the audio brand, including, transparency, future and progress and the brand’s purpose, ‘Make. Move. Transform.’ The audio brand is designed to be representative of the RTA, but also to be used across the city of Dubai, for all its many international audiences.
Al Mehrizi describes this herculean effort as a ‘landmark’ for the brand team. Fittingly, the new sonic brand was launched in the most monumental way possible. The Dubai Foundation is a choreographed fountain located under the Burj Khalifa amid the Downtown Dubai city centre. It was there that the brand was introduced to the city.
Now, the main challenge is rolling out a brand that has over 1,800 buses, 100 trains, 9,000 taxis, plus trams, boats and digital assets. The roll out is in process – with the new audio brand already deployed across digital and social touchpoints and several physical ones as well – but will require a good deal of technical integration to get right. However, with a brand designed to be functional well into the future, the opportunities are only just beginning for the RTA’s audio brand.
At the Transform Awards Middle East and Africa, the new audio brand took home a silver in the ‘Best use of audio branding’ category. Judges loved the approach to using ambient sound to form the audio brand while also staying true to the authentic character of the RTA.
Winning the award, while a point of pride for RTA, also indicates the value of an audio brand for a governmental organisation, Al Mehrizi says. As one of the first governmental organisations from Dubai to implement a complete audio brand, RTA has effectively paved the way for its public sector fellows to engage with audio in the future. “We’ve laid the foundation for other government entities to follow,” Al Mehrizi says.
The audio brand had to work for passengers, the organisation itself and for the people of Dubai, as international and diverse as they are. Because of the adherence to authenticity and the future-first approach, the RTA has delivered something truly characteristic of the Dubai and its personality.
For more about the winners of the Transform Awards MEA, see the winner's book.