Four years is not enough for any character to gain widespread popularity, especially among children, who comprise one of the most difficult audiences to satisfy.

However, Modhesh, the popular mascot of the Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), who turned four this year, has already built a fan following among the Gulf's millions of children, for whom summer is identified with Modhesh.

Modhesh has been an instant hit with the young ones in the UAE and parents consider him an ideal role model for their children. ©Gulf News
For many schoolchildren in the GCC, Modhesh means summer or Summer Surprises.

Yes, Modhesh brings a lot of surprises to the youngsters - gifts, prizes and entertainment. Modhesh merchandise sells like hotcakes during DSS - the most popular summer attraction in the Gulf.

This year, Modhesh branded souvenirs earned Dh1.4 million in the first six weeks, which is an achievement in itself, considering that they are not available in the average retail outlet or toy shop.

According to a DSS official, the popularity of Modhesh merchandise is increasing day by day.

Among the most popular products, prices of which range from Dh2 to Dh130, are school bags, gift bags, pencils, school chairs, Modhesh caps, Modhesh games and game boards, fountain pen sets, Modhesh pins, Modhesh stickers, files, letterheads, envelopes, cups, water bottles, clocks, lunch boxes, T-shirts and breakfast sets.

Yet the brand value of Modhesh is negligible compared to that of Mickey Mouse or Barbie. Mickey, who recently celebrated his 76th birthday, has been named by the BBC as the "figurehead for a company worth more than $47 billion and an international superstar with hundreds of film and television credits to name."

Modhesh has a long way to go. But he must be given credit for making a good start. Within four years his creators, the DSS team, has managed to turn the Modhesh Fun City into a great site full of activities and entertainment.

He has a long list of popular merchandise; a Modhesh Friends Club through which children interact among themselves, and a website to expand his support base.

These are significant achievements for just four years. It would, however, be interesting to gauge Modesh's commercial impact on the sale of Mickey or Barbie merchandise in the Dubai market.

The evolution of the DSS and Modhesh
Summer used to be a long, hot, dull season i
n the Gulf. There was a time when the summer heat was a good excuse to make one's escape. However, things have changed and so have the rules of business in the summer.

Yes, Gulf residents still go on vacation at this time. But the difference is, they come to Dubai. It is no longer one-way traffic. Inbound traffic to Dubai is now as heavy as outbound.

But how did it all begin?

In 1998, Dubai launched its first summer promotion - Dubai Summer Surprises - a strategically conceptualised marketing idea that energises the entire city during the otherwise dull months of July and August.

DSS targeted the most important members of the family - the children - seeking to make summer vacations "Big Fun for Little Ones".

The DSS was launched as part of a greater vision to transform Dubai into a year-round travel destination. It was a great challenge to attract people to a desert land in the hot summer.

However, experience quickly proved that people are willing to come here to cool off. And it worked out well. Now, aircraft land in Dubai with loads of visitors. Hotel occupancy levels are in the high 80 per cent range from June through August.

Consequently, hotel prices are not depressed in summer as they were prior to the mid-1990s.
In the past five years there have been dramatic changes in Dubai's summer profile due to the success of DSS.

Explaining the DSS concept, Saeed Al Nabouda, DSS chief executive, said, "Dubai's reputation as a cosmopolitan tourism and shopping destination within the Middle East region was already well established. Its liberal atmosphere, modern shopping complexes, excellent tourist amenities like hotels and travel services were also well known.

"But one was also aware of the disadvantage in terms of the weather that this region faces during the summer. We wanted to turn this disadvantage into an opportunity for the marketing community within Dubai."

After DSS 1999 the marketing department realised that the DSS logo they had created, a sunny smile with a crown made of splashes of blue and yellow, was insufficient to tie all the theme weeks together.

A stronger element was needed which would bind together activities as diverse as Techno, Water, Heritage and Global Surprises.

Cohesive whole

DSS 1999 seemed like a haphazard collection of themes. A mascot would be the ideal way to bring them together in a cohesive whole.

"Once we had all agreed on a mascot character, the first question that arose was, 'What is it going to be: an animal, a fantasy character, a human form, or an inanimate object? Several brainstorming sessions were held with all our communications partners. We ruled out genies, cartoon versions of animals and so many others. We wanted to communicate the idea of pleasant surprises for children," Al Nabouda said.

The team finally hit upon the concept of a Jack-in-the-box. Universally, Jack-in-the-box is recognised as a character which springs out of a box, bringing happiness to those around, and it is usually a surprise for the individual who opens the box, expecting a harmless gift.

A yellow, sunny, sprightly character incorporating the smiling mood of the DSS logo was conceived. He had a wide grin that was so cheerful that he could bring a smile to anybody's face.

Now the next question was what would he be named.

Modhesh was an instantant favourite. Meaning "amazing" in Arabic, the name had two more important factors in its favour - just two syllables, making it easy to pronounce and giving it a high recall value among its audience. With a name like that, he was prepared for a terrific future.

Modhesh embodied everything that DSS stood for - fun, excitement, brightness and unlimited joy for children. His personality traits were established: he was not more than five years old, he could be a toddler sometimes, he was always laughing, he could be a magician, and he brought delightful surprises for the family, especially his friends, the little ones.

He was jovial and happy-go-lucky, not a naughty prankster, tinged with maturity, he could be the perfect messenger for positive social messages.

In this avatar, Modhesh was considered an ideal kid by parents too - the perfect role model for their children.

Al Nabouda said, "We realised the immense potential that Modhesh had, and one of the promises of DSS was to deliver on a play area where children could realise all their kiddy dreams - a land full of toys, a land which would be