Wellington Scoop

Underwhelming – is there a plus side to Wellington’s new logo?


by Jack Yan
I’m fairly certain that when Wellingtonians identified that our city needed a new brand, the one unveiled today isn’t what they had in mind.

It doesn’t matter whether you are branding for a company or a city, the biggest rule is: get your internal audience on side first. In the case of a city, that internal audience is the people of Wellington. And there seems to be less excuse for not engaging citizens in the age of social media.

Of course, if everyone were engaged, then the status quo tends to be preserved. People tend not to like change, even when they say they want change. However, the logic is that at least the city’s opinion leaders must be involved in a rebranding process.

Maybe they were. Although if they were, it doesn’t come through.

First up, as I said in my election campaign, this is a 22-year-old brand. Today, it remains so.

It may have had touch-ups over the years, mostly typographically—moving from typefaces like Perpetua and Baskerville under Mayors Wilde and Blumsky to an italicized FF Fago under Mayor Prendergast. But it reflects the aspirations of Wellington in 1991. What we saw today was the same brand, but a new logo. It comes across as a cosmetic alteration, applying lipstick to the bulldog.

Arguably, grouping the wording together into a single place is preferable to having it divided into three, with black and white bands. It would not be wrong to call the logo more ‘modern’ in the formal sense of the word: it is reflective of modernism.

Æsthetics will always be subjective, but there is a school of thought that a logo that can be easily replicated is a positive development. A plus sign is easily replicated, but then, there’s the second rule of branding: differentiate. The purpose of branding is to symbolize, differentiate and communicate.

The logo is original: while there are many with pluses (Google Plus, or our Plus One channels on Freeview), I can’t think of any that are executed in this exact way with this colour scheme. But you get an underwhelming feeling since we’re the creative capital. A few more pluses would convey dynamism (although that has been done before, too)—as long as we stick with getting Wellingtonians on side first.

The brand itself — Absolutely Positively Wellington — doesn’t take into consideration those sectors that did not exist in Wellington in a major way, notably ICT . Maintaining it tells me that it’s more of the same. That message is backed up by the abolition of the portfolio within council.

It doesn’t take into consideration the thoughts of any of our young people, who will be burdened with this as the city’s brand in years to come. Those in their 20s might feel a familiarity with the term ‘Absolutely Positively Wellington’, but also a disconnect. They weren’t consulted on where they see Wellington or what they aspire us to be.

The logo, therefore, reinforces the old brand. Comments on social media this morning highlight that: at the time of writing, I have yet to see a positive one. They range from not knowing what the logo means to thoughts that it would be better applied to a church.

That brings us to the third rule: tell the internal audience what it stands for before rolling it out to an external audience.

Yet this is all shrouded in mystery today.

Another point of interest is the logo’s removal from parking tickets. It’s going to be reeled back from being a city brand to one that is applied in more formal marketing efforts. We go from the enviable position of having a city brand to a mere destination brand.

There is a subtle difference. A city brand is meant to unite the city, giving everyone who lives here a sense of pride. A destination brand is one aimed at marketing, the province of business and tourism agencies.

However, I’d still like to see us all “own” it because modern marketing sees citizens participate as much as organizations.

While I accept that there’s a Resene deal that sees citizens being able to adopt the yellow ourselves — which on paper is a fine idea — will the lack of earlier engagement encourage us to take it up?

So in the branding 101 handbook, there have been mistakes.

On the plus side, pun intended, I’d be happier to see the yellow box in movie credits and on letterheads than its black-and-white predecessor. That was certainly unworkable in destination marketing and lacked appeal for years. One might say it has never had appeal.

Regardless of how negatively the Stuff reader poll puts the new logo, it’s not as bad as the Wellywood sign proposal.

I hope for our city’s sake this works out and that stage two of the roll-out — where it’s sold to the rest of us — is far more convincing.

Jack Yan ran for Wellington mayor this year and is the author of Typography and Branding (2005). He was a contributor to Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity Are Changing the World of Brands (2004) andNation Branding: Country Concepts and Cases (2009). He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Brand Management.

A competition: Let’s improve on the Wellington logo

Maximus: O no logo!


  1. Traveller, 4. November 2013, 18:33

    True. It does look like a church. One of those churches that hires the Michael Fowler Centre for inspirational messages on Sunday mornings?

  2. Andrew Robertson, 4. November 2013, 20:59

    When did Wellington become a church? [via Twitter]

  3. Hel, 4. November 2013, 21:01

    Words fail me, the new look is just appalling and looks amateur. Sorry what was I thinking, amateur is being kind it is worse than that.

  4. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 4. November 2013, 21:43

    “The new logo for Wellington City Council should be canned immediately, if it is not too late to do so, and before any more rates are wasted on it. It is a complete waste of money, and does nothing for the city, businesses or anyone.

    Councillors and the Council have never made any decision to adopt this logo. Instead the mayor and one councillor presented a fait accompli today-in the media. This Council has not even been informed of the expenditure related to this so far or the entire expenditure allocated. Further, it was unclear to councillors today just how far the expenditure for the logo had gone and whether the logo was a final one or still a draft. Most Councillors were taken by surprise by the media announcement by the mayor and Councillor Coughlan. Later in the day the Council was given a brief presentation. Immediately I challenged the project, and questioned the expenditure so far, but received no answer. I also asked whether the project had gone too far to reverse. But no clear answer was forthcoming.

    The logo is offensive to some people for a range of reasons; to others it immediately resembles and represents a Church instead of a diverse City. It seems to dismiss the diverse multicultural Capital City we have become, with creative people, businesses, and a unique natural environment. The logo sends the wrong message about who we are as a City, our special attributes, what we have become, and where we want to take the City. It lacks creativity. The design is poor.

    It harks back to a monocultural era long gone in Wellington, and will attract no one, and will detract for some. It needs to be canned, if at all possible, and before more millions are wasted. It does nothing for the City or the people.”

  5. Kath Lauderdale, 4. November 2013, 22:05

    Hideous …what a disaster for Wellington.

  6. Guy, 5. November 2013, 7:32

    Get a grip people, what are you complaining about? It’s a logo – it does what it says on the box. Yellow color, bit of a subtle cross, it’s up on the Council letterhead, now move on. There are more important things to be worried about. Councilor Ritchie, pull your head in and get to work doing something useful for the city.

  7. Elaine Hampton, 5. November 2013, 8:35

    It is a very Eurocentric design, not at all ‘inclusive’

  8. Peter Kennedy, 5. November 2013, 8:57

    Thanks Helene, your comments re excluding so many in our multi-cultural society echo mine. It reminds me of a Christian logo of the 50s and 60s, not that of a modern day progressive society. Needs to be quickly deposited into the dustbin before causing any further embarrassment.

  9. Vit Drga, 5. November 2013, 9:34

    [An open letter to Celia Wade-Brown]
    Dear Ms Wade-Brown,
    I am very concerned about the new logo that has been put forward. In fact, I am horrified. My immediate impression was that it belongs to a church from the 1960s, and only from other Web commentary do I find that the cross was meant as a “plus” symbol. Intentions or not, it looks like a Christian cross, especially so since it dominates the logo, and visitors would think of it as a religious symbol well before thinking of it mathematically. I am an atheist and find this logo offensive and highly inappropriate. I urge you to change the decision to adopt the cross as a symbol of Wellington. Furthermore, if Helene Ritchie’s comments are correct (http://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=61433), then the lack of consultation is highly disturbing. You *cannot* overhaul the city logo without approval of the Council, and of the community. As a Wellington ratepayer, I can’t do much but say that I will not vote for you in any future election unless the cross is removed and I will be urging fellow ratepayers to do likewise.
    Sincerely yours,
    Vit Drga

  10. J Miller, 5. November 2013, 9:54

    Oh this is simply awful, and woefully inappropriate! Yes, I can understand the “plus sign” equating to “positively”, but the association of the Christian cross is far stronger. And this is a reaction from an atheist with a mathematical background! If someone like me doesn’t make the “plus” association, then no-one will! And the yellow is foul (or should that be fowl?).

  11. Nora, 5. November 2013, 11:03

    Have just returned from awful Auckland to wonderful Wellington. Cannot believe this “awful” new logo. Where did the idea come from? And why was it not on the Council agenda for all to see?

  12. scott, 5. November 2013, 14:38

    how about using loomio a wonderful piece of online collaboration for considering a much more progressive logo. this us one very bland piece of work that has tried to be as unoffensive to as many people but makes a farce of anything creative about this city. gah.

  13. Brent Efford, 5. November 2013, 20:53

    My immediate subliminal impression was that it was for a church – particularly one of those pop-up hire-a-hall churches as identified by Traveller. .

  14. andy foster, 5. November 2013, 21:19

    Just to confirm that Helene is correct that councillors weren’t consulted, and when we saw it yesterday several of us said we were neither impressed by the design (or the need for a new design), or by the process, so we’ll see where that ends up going.

    I absolutely support the need to market Wellington as a place to locate business, and Council’s investment in that. I also understand the value in having Wellingtonians as cheer leaders for that – just as we have for Wellington as a tourism destination, and as a great place to live. So it is good to tell the story of all the creative businesses that people have set up here.

    However I am not impressed with this effort at a new logo. There is a very long history of public and private sector rebranding/remodelling brand failures. I would also be concerned if too much of the allocated resource was directed at marketing Wellington to Wellingtonians.

    Andy Foster

  15. Lindsay, 5. November 2013, 21:26

    The yellow is okay. But typographically it’s bland and dismal – there’s no strength, no style. And the overall impression is indeed (as many are observing) that it’s something to do with religion.

  16. Phil C, 6. November 2013, 1:05

    Well said, Jack. Some ratepayers weren’t even born when this phrase was conceived.

  17. Scott Weaver, 6. November 2013, 6:39

    I can’t see me replacing my old black and white T-shirt with a yellow church one. Made of fail!

  18. Maximus, 6. November 2013, 7:13

    ….it is interesting that you are all reacting so strongly against this new logo, when really the last one wasnt much chop anyway. Three black and white rectangles with words in them is hardly a work of great art – but nostalgia for the present obviously takes a firm grip early on with Wellingtonians. Yes, it is typographically bland and dismal, but it is not the end of the world. I certainly don’t hear Auckland Council discussing the color or typeface of the Auckland brand, I hear them discussing the merits of a central city rail link, and ways of their city becoming the best place in the world to live – a title that we arguably already hold….

  19. Rich, 6. November 2013, 9:54

    Why does a city need a slogan and logo? Something to identify council things is reasonable – e.g. “Wellington City Council”.

    If *you* were planning to take a holiday, relocate your business or move overseas, would you be swayed by the town’s slogan or lack of. Can anyone identify the slogans and logos of Paris/San Francisco/Tokyo?

  20. Mary Varnham, 6. November 2013, 11:01

    If seemingly every single person in Wellington immediately thinks it’s a logo for a church, how come Positively Wellington Tourism hasn’t noticed this? Do they need spectacles? Why spend millions rebranding the city with a logo anyway? The best branding would be putting in place things people in successful cities all over the world actually like, such as Copenhagen cycle lanes, light rail, urban parks (Te Aro is a concrete jungle) and beaches that don’t look like bomb sites.

  21. NigelTwo, 6. November 2013, 13:59

    Thought I voted a few weeks back for our local democratic leadership. Seems the decision part of our democracy has vanished. Probably join the non-voters next time ;-(

  22. Guy, 6. November 2013, 16:43

    NigelTwo – if you want to be involved in EVERY single decision, then I suggest you stand for Council. We elect the Councilors and give them the power to get on and do the things that need doing. That’s democracy. We need them to make decisions – its too bad if you or I don’t actually like the decisions they have made, but the main thing surely is that they have made a decision and we can move on. Arguing with the entire city and discussing a yellow rectangle or which type of Font to be used, would seem to be a waste of time.

  23. MikeM, 6. November 2013, 19:30

    I’m fine with reasonable expense in getting a decent logo, but it would have been nice to have had some opportunity for involvement. I remember the original APW logo wasn’t terribly popular to begin with but I ‘m still concerned after seeing this.

    If it’s not a churchey impression, it’s giving a very polished corporate image, as if we all wear yuppie suits at the top of a 40 storey building.

    It doesn’t do much to inspire fun at all.

  24. Hayley Robinson, 6. November 2013, 21:51

    Guy: the point is, we want our elected representatives to be involved in decisions. The Councillors are saying that most of them were not.

  25. JC, 7. November 2013, 12:50

    Hayley – I don’t think we need every councillor involved in the development or approval of a new logo. I believe in democracy but I don’t really care what Helene Ritchie or Andy Foster’s view on the logo is. Surely their time would be better spent on more important matters such as setting policy. Micro-managing everything to the nth degree, and losing sight of what really matters, is not going to help us move forward as a city.

  26. Janet, 7. November 2013, 20:35

    JC except for the fact that the logo defines the city’s identity and how it is viewed by others, so is a bit more than just ‘micro managing’ to want to have input into a decision on it.

  27. peter@eastwelly, 7. November 2013, 21:43

    JC – Going by your prescriptive, Councillors would not be involved in every decision that was passed by the Council, and therein lies the problem. A lack of accountability – it would become too easy for some Councillors to divorce themselves from decisions they were previously involved in.
    No issue with Celia and Jo driving the design, but a bit of ‘consultation’ with the other Councillors before presenting it to the public of Wellington might have avoided the shambles we are witnessing.

  28. Alana, 7. November 2013, 22:29

    I just looked at the “old” logo and it seems perfectly fine.
    Who decided a change was needed?
    Why not focus on the bigger issues facing Wellington?
    Transportation, keeping Downstage, affordable housing, rates, keeping good paying jobs here, looking after the Green Belt – oh, and stopping the absurd flyover so we keep the wonderful Basin Reserve as it is!

  29. andy foster, 11. November 2013, 5:29

    I agree with those writers who have said that identity issues are important. That’s why flags, anthems, heads of state, logos, large signs on hills which label cities, get vigorously debated. They should represent our identity, say something about who we are.

    That’s also why they need to be ‘owned’ and in the context of a city logo why it must be signed off at a governance level, not a management one. If a logo is merely to be part of a marketing campaign that is one thing – a bit untidy and confusing – but if as was clearly intended it is to change the logo of the Council and the City that is quite another. You can expect that there will be some actions towards addressing that this week.

    Finally, to assure those writers who are concerned that there are bigger issues. Yes of course there are – and equally yes most of us are very capable of doing more than one thing at once! There are a lot of things you’ll see over the next few weeks leading into Christmas. Councillors are very keen to ‘get things done.’

    Warmest regards
    Andy Foster
    City Councillor

  30. Esjay, 17. November 2013, 9:22

    Fascinating really. No one has commented on the spending of ratepayers’ monies. The method adopted here seems similar to the $1 million voted for the Airport Resource Consent – forget about consultation and practice dictatorship.

  31. Nora, 18. November 2013, 15:46

    To all those concerned about costs etc, please look at the advt on Page A5 of today’s Dompost telling us what most of us know and love about our city., with the new logo tucked away in the corner. Who paid for this “High Flying Companies, Touching Down Here” promotion?