Give Me a Break, Sheikh

There it was, on the back page of the first section of this morning’s Wall Street Journal.

A very colorful, visually “grabby” full-page ad from a sheikh announcing his new foundation. Now I don’t know how much it cost to put a full-page ad in the WSJ, but I do know that if the goal was to actually communicate valuable information, then every dollar was wasted.

Here is what the ad says:

10 Billion Dollars

Contributing to the Development of Knowledge and Culture

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the establishment of his foundation with an endowment of 10 billion dollars, focusing on human development in the region. The foundation will facilitate and promote knowledge creation and dissemination, and will nurture future leaders, providing them with equal opportunities with the aim of building a knowledge-based society.


Based on the “information” contained in this boast self-aggrandizing commercial full-page ad, I now have no answers, but I do have an awful lot of questions. To wit:

1. “human development” – what does that mean?

2. “the region” – what region?

3. “knowledge creation and dissemination” – that could mean one hundred things, not all of them good. What is it?

4. “future leaders” – of what sort?

5. “equal opportunities” – for whom?

6. “knowledge-based society” – such as? Which knowledge?

7. “culture” – not all cultures are to be applauded. What culture is to be developed here?

Not to be crass or cynical, but this foundation could be doing anything from establishing classical schooling opportunities for underprivileged females throughout the Middle East, to training and knowledge-equipping terrorist leaders in Afghanistan. Or anything in between. I’d really like to know what “knowledge” and “development” is being envisioned in whatever “region” this is. And this full-page ad miserably fails to communicate that.

Let’s face it – post 9/11, Arab leaders have a tough audience here in the U.S. It’s a real branding/marketing problem. This kind of nebulous language won’t score any P.R. points. If this foundation were to forthrightly speak of combating terrorist brainwashing and anti-everyone-but-us hate education with some very concrete initiatives to create a more civilized society, I’d be all ears. Particularly if it was followed with action. As it is, all I see is a clumsy marketing effort for the sheikh to promote himself with his (I assume) oil riches, and dodge any specifics. Sorry – that’s a non-starter.

I went to the URL specified to see if more light was to be gained. Nope – more high-sounding generalities.sheikh_web.jpg

You know, sometimes I just don’t get it. Why would anyone spend such money to say…nothing?

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7 Responses to Give Me a Break, Sheikh

  1. Lewis Green says:


    Like the cave man says, “Ah, what?” Too bad the sheik never heard of copy writers.

  2. impactiviti says:

    I see this all the time with relatively obscure Asian companies as well, trying to promote themselves in U.S. magazines and newspapers. The writing is often appalling, and there is frequently no clarity or purpose in the messaging. My feeling – either spend to money to say something substantive, with clarity – or don’t spend it all.

  3. Vish says:

    We had a a similar full page advertisement in Economic
    Times, Bangalore, India. YES. I was blown away by the
    scale {…obviously amount 🙂 }

    You are right. There is no relationship between full-page
    advertisement & web page. There is a huge gap between
    intent & content!

    – For sure, it is not a crass!

    I have assessed knowledge regions for a while (my website
    isn’t showing anything though; it has been that way for a
    while) and this one beats everything in terms of push. The
    advertisement says something:”We mean business”.
    Believe me, I have spent exactly half my career in the
    Silicon Valley and half in Bangalore, I see a thoughtful
    approach; but outcome is to be seen though.

    Beyond that, I do see requirements (read it as ‘gaps’) for
    movements on self-conviction as well as externalised proof-
    of-deliverables…, for ‘technology’ can be bought but not
    the ‘knowledge’. So, then, who are going to
    plan ‘transformation’? … I guess such a large effort shall
    embark on transformation of region & even society. That
    brings me to say, how is knowledge realised in all its 3 key
    seed incarnations: Absorption, Transformation &
    Creation? …and most importantly, which/what are the key
    application drivers that will drive the whole thing.

    In all, yes…, the advertisement sums it up…that knowledge
    is power. (Pure technology is fun with shelf life like Apple
    iPod and pure knowledge is contentment but ineffective
    as it can’t create iPod….:-); south Bangalore was latter &
    moving rapidly up the scale).

    Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai & Bangalore. The winner is
    expertise in knowledge mining 🙂 Welcome to new
    uncharted territory!!!

  4. Wow.

    When I turned the nyt page to what I thought was a new Starbucks ad, but bang 10 billion! I was on the web site in ten seconds but the “contact page” was swamped (by idiots like me looking for a grant) Could some please send me a copy of the contact page & I’ll be happy split my billion dollar grant with the helpfull personge!!!

  5. Djamel says:

    Dear Steve Woodruff ,

    I don’t know if you grasped the meaning of the foundation and its aim.

    The real aim is Renaissance of the Arab region.

    Because the Arabs were once leaders of the world ,but now see what you ‘westerners’ are doing
    destruction because of your selfishness and materialism.

    See what is doing in Iraq : drunk soldiers (AMERICANS)
    raping a 12 years old girl then killing her with all her
    family members who saw everything (Allah knew when he prohibitted wine ..etc) can you bear it

    Because of ignorance (not in science but in humanism ,freedom ,love )

    Be sure that the image you see in television about Islam is a false image ,it is done to control the world

    They seize the opportunity of the Arab leaders who are pro-westerners and acheive their develish goals.

    So we have to come back in the lead once again :I tell one thing (I don’t knwo if you are a beleiver or not) God when he created Adam (The real version not like the bible written as a myth just for amusement but to teach man about his mission on earth ) before that he told angels that he will create a human being (quran),they asked him why do you create someone who will kill and enjoy bloodshed,god replied that he knows what they ignore. So Adam’s mission on earth was to be peace maker and this is the same for us Islam means peace , according to our religion nobody enters paradise if there’s an atom of arrogance in his heart because in my opinion arrogance is destructive leads to greed (money ) and becomes blind and do everything to have money: kill, rape ,torture .

    Sincerly Yours,

    Djamel Algiers

  6. Bernardo Von Clue says:

    This make sense when you consider who the customer/target of this ad really is. It is not Americans, but the people within the power structure and believe system that delivers the money to the Sheikh.
    This convinces them to continue to subjugate themselves, their money, beliefs, love, potential wife, money, lives to the person who perpetuates the absurdity of the idea that their could be sincere faith without choice.
    He is perpetrating a system of power, not a system of belief, or ideology that goes beyond a simple assimilation of power that has the appalling power of cold, hard math. The metric of survival.
    Faith is beyond survival. It is extra. It is only found in a choice that is independent of the bread crumb. True, we must all be engaged in gainful service to others however if we want to hear the truth, the servant of the truth cannot be bound to the master to only tell the what they want to hear.
    BTW, a renagade solder does not a case make against standing solidly against tyranny.
    Sincerely, Bernardo

  7. Pascale Barrett says:

    I have just found this ad in the Guardian (UK) dated Tuesday 29th May. So logged onto the website of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Riashid Maktoum and hey nothing.

    What is most curious about this advertisement is that no one has questioned it apart from persons on this blog. I was shocked to hear it had been published in the WSJ. Whom is benefiting from this fund? Who is answerable? What does it all mean and who do ask?

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