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Absolutely, Positively Baffling: the Curious Case of the Wellington City Logo

Chris Dickman Thu, 05/01/2014 - 10:37

It's hard to find a city without both a logo and tagline, which together try to sum up graphically and in words its essence. This is a pure exercise in branding, with the objective these days being to try to appear "modern" and "progressive" enough to attract companies to set up shop and give a boost to the local economy. A good example of that was demonstrated in my post last week covering the new identity for Halifax, the historic capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Gone are references to its rich nautical heritage, replaced by a type treatment more typical of an investment banking firm, complete with the tagline "Be Bold." I am not making this up.

Now let's take a look at Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The second-most populous urban area of the country, trailing Auckland by a large margin, Wellington has apparently been using the words "Absolutely Positively Wellington" as its moniker for almost 25 years, in a variety of configurations. An argument can certainly be made that the time had come to retire that and use the opportunity to radically rethink Wellington's brand identity. But this would seem to have been a missed opportunity, with New Zealand design firm Assignment Group initially coming up with the middle treatment shown above — the same three words but this time with the addition of a white... what exactly?

We're told that it's supposed to represent a plus sign, which indeed ties in nicely with the "Positively" element of the tired mantra. But as I showed in a recent post covering the Just Cavalli logo, which closely resembles a sacred Islamic symbol and accordingly has created an ongoing controversy, designers need to be very careful to avoid evoking such religious connotations. To quell objections that this looked like the identity for a church, a few months later Assignment duly delivered a cross-free version that, unless my eyes deceive me, looks very much like the one Wellington has been using for the last quarter of a century.

Locals once again seem unconvinced but according to council economic spokeswoman Jo Coughlan, "It's part of a process to try and portray Wellington as an exciting place to work, a good place to invest and a good place to do business. We do not want to keep presenting ourselves in the same way we did 25 years ago."

And yet that is exactly what this initiative has accomplished.