Qatar buys sculpture to repair broken branding efforts

Despite recent criticism in foreign media about the poor conditions foreign workers face in Qatar, local officials seem determined in hosting the most celebrated soccer event in the world. The Guardian newspaper has recently reported that dozens of Nepali workers had died on building sites in Qatar over this summer. Human rights activists called on FIFA to take action and deny Qatar the honor of hosting the event in 2022. Recent media reports suggest that FIFA will stick to its decision.

In its Public Relation effort to confirm its entitlement to host the World Cup and deny rumors about any location change, Arab News reported that Qatar Museums Authority announced recently that it has bought ‘Coup de Tete’, a sculpture made by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed to recapture the infamous head-butt the French soccer star Ziendine Zidane gave to Italy’s Marco Materazzi in 2006’s Berlin final match. Zidane was given the red card and booted from the match.

Courtesy of AFP and Italy MagazineScreen Shot 2013-10-05 at 8.13.46 PM

                         Photo courtesy of AFP and Italy Magazine


Some PR experts hailed Qatar’s decision to buy the statue as good publicity that will serve as a tourist attraction but few thought of the negative connotation the statue has especially on an event, where organizers constantly advocate for fair play.

For more than a decade now, Qatar has been in quest for new ways to make an image of a small but important nation. The head-butt statue is just a one of a number of extravagant  efforts to create a world class place.

The country, which is the home to renowned television satellite news network Al Jazeera and Qatar Airways, the world’s best airline in 2012, has also been generating buzz with its controversial foreign policy inside and outside the Arab world. The emirate happens to host the largest U.S military base Middle East known as Al Udeid, yet it also prides itself in hosting the Taliban and Hamas regional offices as well as an Israeli trade office.

Qatar’s “brotherly” ties with some Arab countries, particularly Egypt, have been suffering because of its support of Islamists such as Muslim Brothers and clerics such as Yousuf Al Qaradawi, a famous Islamist televagelist. The emirate and the new Emir’s mother Mozah bint Nasser has been the target of some Egyptian night comedy shows and songs. The country is also seen as a funder of the Jihadist groups fighting in Sirya, Hamas in Gaza and Sunni armed opposition in Iraq.

From a PR perspective, the problem with Qatar’s nation branding efforts is that they lack two main elements. The first is developing an identity or character of the nation. For that, Qatar needs to identify the core values of its people, which have to be real, convincing and most importantly they need to reflect something in common that the majority of the Qataris share.

The second element  has to be a narrative frame for those values. In other words, Qatar’s nation brand has to tell the story of its people just like any successful brand. It could be the story of how they first discovered gas or how the emirate moved so quickly from forgotten peninsula on the Gulf to one of the richest on earth. As long as its a good story, it will sell and it will give the officials there the opportunity to develop and communicate messages that serve the objectives of their campaign.

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