• Transform magazine
  • April 22, 2024

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The royal treatment

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Atlantis’ latest Dubai venture – a resort touted as the most ultra-luxurious in the world – required a bold identity to match the impressive new property. In a city filled with the most lavish destination brands imaginable, how was standout achieved? Jack Cousins reports.

There’s no hiding Dubai’s devotion to maintaining its meticulous self-image. From as far south as the man-made Palm Jebel Ali archipelago, past the lofty Burj Al Arab, all the way up to the imperious Burj Khalifa in the Downtown district and beyond, a single word unites this whirlwind of steel, glass and sand: iconic.

Everything built must be world class, and invariably everything built is. The Palm Jumeirah, chief among Dubai’s most prestigious destinations, is one such example. The first of the city’s artificial archipelagos to be completed, it now teems with expensive villas, chic beach clubs and outrageously fancy resorts. The head of this palm tree-shaped islet has been dominated by the aptly named Atlantis The Palm since its 2008 opening.

Fifteen years on, the resort has achieved legendary status amongst Dubai’s premier brands, welcoming over half a million visitors in 2019 alone. Part of the attraction for tourists is The Palm’s unusually strong identity in what is already a visually overwhelming city. From atop its 23-storeys, the ever-expanding city skyline is cleverly juxtaposed with the tranquil beauty of the Persian Gulf to the west. An iconic aperture cuts through the centre of this enormous structure, further adding to the mystique and intrigue of brand Atlantis.

But with the region’s taste for the extraordinary growing year-on-year, this would never be enough. Earlier this year, Kerzner International – which owns Atlantis – opened what it believes to be ‘the most ultra-luxury experiential resort in the world’. Located on the opposite side of its world-class Aquaventure Waterpark, and just a few kilometres from The Palm, Atlantis The Royal dwarfs its twin resort by some 20 storeys. The sleek, Jenga-esque construction positions the venture as one of the brighter sparkles in ‘The City of Gold’, as Dubai has come to be described.

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However, architecture alone is not sufficient to attract a worldwide audience. In order to build a brand which could communicate the $1.6bn resort’s values, Kerzner sought the help of FutureBrand London. The global design agency was simultaneously tasked with designing The Royal’s brand while also evolving The Palm’s to create a cohesive brand experience. Dani Smith, who has worked on The Royal project since its inception in 2018 as design director, acknowledged the main challenge of the client’s brief early on.

Smith says, “As soon as we got into it, we realised the brief required us to create an ultra-luxury brand without devaluing the one that already exists.” The question was therefore how FutureBrand could create an elevated brand in The Royal without making The Palm feel dated. To create a brand which could balance all the needs of Atlantis, Smith would have to keep The Palm in mind as a reference point.

The differences between the two resorts, and therefore who they aim to attract, were generally subtle but distinct enough to work with. The Royal epitomises luxury, is just that bit more elegant and refined and crucially aimed at a more discerning demographic. The Palm, meanwhile, is more family-focused, encapsulates the stereotypically ostentatious nature of the city and embraces its mythical and adventurous lost-city theme.

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A further factor to consider may have been Dubai’s extensive competition in this category. While FutureBrand did study other resorts – particularly to understand the visual cues and tone of voice usually adopted – Atlantis The Royal would not benchmark itself against anyone. Instead, those who worked on the project would focus on creating an identity that was wholly new, specifically because it was aiming to be “way ahead” of the rest, according to Smith.

The strategy adopted by FutureBrand would come to revolve around the door-like shape that cuts straight through The Royal. Right from the get-go, before the property was even completed, it was obvious to Smith from CGI animatics that The Royal’s façade was a “gift”. By merging the architectural design with the surrounding physical beauty, a brand strategy could be built: ‘Ignite The Horizon’.

Maddi Hutchinson, senior strategist at FutureBrand, believes the metaphor of journeying into a new world plays directly into the resort’s offering of the most luxurious, incredible experience imaginable. She says, “It felt like the right story for them because it brings together various themes central to The Royal’s concept, a collision of the natural elements, its environmental surroundings and its vibrant energy. Plus, the idea works well both at a conceptual and at a functional level.”

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For a brand with a sizeable number of touchpoints, ranging from large signage all the way down to keycards, it was important that the brand identity was easily scalable. Maintaining the heightened sense of luxury was partially achieved by deploying an appropriately charming tone of voice. Door hangers include messages like ‘Sssh… still in the clouds’ in crisp golden lettering, while poignant Instagram posts inform the world that ‘under a vibrant sky, infinite adventures await’.  

The ‘door’ icon appears as a consistent theme throughout the visual identity, often accompanied by an elegant, high contrast sans serif wordmark. Infused with just a hint of Arabic flavour, the theme extends to the rest of the typographic design, which utilises Atlantis Resorts Headline, a bespoke font inspired by high-end fashion created in partnership with Monotype. Elsewhere, the colours used were heavily inspired by the surrounding area. A deep, oceanic blue was adopted, as was an ivory similar to the sand found on nearby picturesque beaches. The gold, Smith says, was influenced by the shimmering water and the property’s glistening metals.

The creative elements behind the success of The Royal’s brand were easily translatable to its revised twin brand, The Palm. Just as the core visual identity of The Royal revolved around its architectural intrigue, so too now does The Palm’s. By also adopting the unusual shape of the property’s aperture as an icon, along with other identity elements like the new type, Atlantis and FutureBrand believe they have engineered the ultimate destination brand.

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If this prognosis is correct, it was certainly no mean feat achieving this during the Covid-19 pandemic, when much of the world – including the UAE – was impossible to access. Poised to visit the Atlantis Dubai properties a week before the UK’s first 2020 lockdown, Smith and the FutureBrand team would have to wait another three years before they finally got the chance to see their hard work put into practice.

FutureBrand’s eventual first visit to Atlantis saw the team returning to London with gold and silver aplenty, as the trip coincided with the Transform Awards MEA 2023. The team’s work was highly praised by judges, scooping up golds in both the ‘Best place or nation brand’ and ‘Best localisation of an international brand’ categories. While FutureBrand will continue to work on the implementation of Atlantis’ brands, the awards evening marked the end to this particular chapter.

As for Dubai, it is rapidly becoming one of the world’s great city brands. It has the remarkable ability to attract the most ambitious developments, such as Atlantis The Royal, and then have them delivered in that iconic manner which underscores the city’s glitzy identity. According to Brand Finance’s inaugural City Index report, Dubai ranks as the best Middle East and Africa city brand, nineteen positions clear of next best Abu Dhabi. With most of this having been achieved in the past 20 years, it is surely only a matter of time before Dubai, which ranks ninth globally, is regarded in the same league as city brand titans London, New York and Paris.

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This article was taken from Transform magazine Q3, 2023. You can subscribe to the print edition here.