Modhesh, the love to hate Dubai festival mascot, comes under the microscope

The character created 11 years ago to represent Dubai Summer Surprises has been analysed on the pages of the Marketing Review journal.

Modhesh has created divided opinion among both adults and children.
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DUBAI // Few things in Dubai have spurred the divided reaction he has: from his inescapable presence and hundreds of merchandising items, to a Facebook campaign calling for his cuddly demise.

Not many people, however, could have predicted that Modhesh (pronounced Mud-Hish), the worm-like shopping festival mascot whose name means “excited”, would become the subject of academic study.

For the past 11 years, the overly chirpy yellow figure has popped up on street corners and in shops across the emirate to promote the Dubai Summer Surprises festival.

Last month he appeared alongside Mickey Mouse as a topic of sober analysis on the pages of the Marketing Review journal.

“I was analysing various successful brands in the GCC and then I came across Modhesh,” explained author Dr K Prakash Vel, an associate professor in business at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.

“We prepared a case study on how Modhesh was nurtured as a brand to demonstrate theories of brand development.”

Dr Vel said Modhesh was selected because he was “iconic” within the region and had followed similar brand development to that of Mickey Mouse.

The character was created 11 years ago and has evolved to include more than 1,000 merchandise items, from novelty pens to cuddly toys.

He is also the focal point of the annual summer Modhesh World attraction, which has attracted up to half a million visitors in previous years.

Dr Vel’s study compared Modhesh’s evolution as a sub-brand of Dubai Summer Surprises to several theories of marketing development.

In the paper, he said Modhesh followed a fairly typical development path, which he described as ‘conception, nurturing and sustenance’.

“Modhesh has been promoted efficiently from the beginning right up until the nurturing stage,” he said.

However, he suggested that the current mode of understanding brands did not take fully into account the potential profitability of sub-brands, like Modhesh.

“Modhesh has helped us expose a gaping hole in the literature,” he said, adding that he would continue to do further research, although not necessarily orientated around Modhesh.

The character is owned by Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (Depe) but was originally created as a simple sketch by the freelance artist Romulo Miclat.

Mr Miclat said he had been mildly surprised by the success of the character, and often wished he had brokered a royalties contract.

But he is not entirely happy with how the character has changed over time.

“They make these big mascots which are displayed all over Dubai,” Mr Miclat said.

“Sometimes, the way they have done it, it looks a bit scary. It’s not the same as what I’ve drawn originally. In the original illustration it was very friendly. The way I see it in the malls, or around the city, it’s not the exact same design.”

The mascot’s rise does have its critics. A Facebook group called “Death to Modhesh” was set up three years ago and attracted more than 1,000 members, playing on similar groups and websites attacking other mascots around the world. Some posts present tongue-in-cheek solutions to eliminating the wormy character, such as guillotining a Modhesh toy, or taking a blowtorch to billboards displaying his image.

Sherif Abaza, the group’s founder says some of the reactions were slightly “extreme”, and admits he was in mixed minds about restarting the campaign to ban the “yellow abomination”.

“The last few years I haven’t felt as strongly about him as when I launched the group. Maybe I’ve just got used to it, although I wouldn’t want to say that it’s grown on me.”

Mr Miclat said acknowledged Modhesh has fans and detractors.“You can’t please everyone,” he said. “Most of the kids like Modhesh but some of them, they really hate him.”

Perhaps the brand owners of Modhesh, had taken note of the group’s message, Mr Abaza said.