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

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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.

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