The Housing Chronicles Blog: Celebrities endorsing Middle East developments

Monday, June 9, 2008

Celebrities endorsing Middle East developments

Apparently the allure of worldwide celebrity has been very successful for splashy projects in the Middle East, especially Dubai. While it's difficult to say if this trend will translate to the U.S. market (it's worked with both positive and negative results leveraging the names of George Clooney and Donald Trump), I could to see it working for certain types of projects. If anyone has a project and is seriously considering a celebrity endorser, let me know -- I have a friend who runs the commercials/endorsements division for one of major talent agencies. From a Wall Street Journal story:

Property developers in this Persian Gulf sheikdom, famous for its grandiose projects, are increasingly turning to American and European celebrities to help sell the properties to wealthy consumers. The latest luminary to lend his name to a development here is Hollywood star Brad Pitt, who will design a five-star hotel and resort for Zabeel Properties, a relatively new company in the lodging industry. The 800-room hotel will feature "environmentally friendly architecture," Mr. Pitt said in a prepared statement. The actor will work with Graft LLC, an architecture firm based in Los Angeles.

Mr. Pitt joins Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, fashion designer Giorgio Armani and golfers Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, among others, who have staked their reputations on helping Dubai property agents lure wealthy foreigners.

Mr. Armani's development, which includes condos and a hotel being built by Emaar Properties, will compete with Palazzo Versace, a hotel that will feature furniture and fittings selected by rival designer Donatella Versace.

"Real-estate branding involving global celebrities is here on a scale that doesn't happen in markets anywhere else," Blair Hagkull, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle's Middle East unit, told Zawya Dow Jones. "Developers are going to huge extents to attract investors" as competition rises, he says.

Glitzy marketing that uses celebrities to sell homes and fill hotel rooms and office space is no guarantee that the developments will be successful -- and in some cases can even hint of problems ahead. A few years ago in Las Vegas, several splashy condominium projects associated with celebrities -- including Hall of Fame baseball slugger Reggie Jackson and actor George Clooney -- were canceled when it became clear that the market was overbuilt... Sales, so far, remain brisk. Villas attached to a golf course designed and endorsed by Mr. Norman sold out within a week, according to the project's developer. Prices ranged from $4 million to $8 million.

The obsession with celebrity in Dubai's real-estate industry is such that even B-list stars are in demand. The face of Niki Lauda, made famous by a near-fatal racing-car accident in 1976 on the Nurburgring in Germany, will be emblazoned across one of three office towers in Dubai planned by ACI Real Estate...

"Celebrity endorsements make sense where they clearly add value to a project and there's a direct correlation between the celebrity and the development," said LaSalle's Mr. Hagkull.

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