Not just a phrase

Richard Walls
Richard Walls
Who are we? What are we? We're about to find out. Nigel Benson reports.

Well , that couldn't have gone any better if it was planned, really.

Ever since the Otago Daily Times broke the news that the Dunedin City Council is looking for a new promotional strategy, the pretty city has become something of a cause celebre in cyberspace.

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on what makes our city special.

Or not so special.

Suggested slogans have ranged from "Dunedin - Palmerston North with a harbour", "Dunedin - You've missed the bypass", "Dunedin - The gateway to Milton" and "Dunedin - God's waiting room", to "Dunedin - Not the end of the world (but you can see it from here)".

City branding has long been a funny business.

Jennifer Hooker
Jennifer Hooker
"Stop and taste Te Puke" had overseas tourists reaching for their New Zillin pronunciation guides.

Timaru thought it was on a winner with "Feel, touch, taste".

That was, until a disrespectful few started adding "lick" to the slogan on billboards.

So Timaru changed its slogan to "Feel the heartbeat", which is probably more appropriate for a town with an ageing population where CPR skills are desirable.

Hamilton used "More than you'd expect" for many years, which doesn't exactly make you want to book plane tickets, while Rolleston has branded itself "The Town of the Future", although the future has yet to recognise this.

Meanwhile, Tuatapere proudly declared itself "New Zealand's Sausage Capital", Kerikeri went kitsch with "It's So Nice They Named It Twice" and Matamata got all Kath and Kim with "You matter in Matamata".

It would be fair to say that Dunedin also does not have the best track record when it comes to slogans.

Dr Andrea Insch
Dr Andrea Insch
"That's the Spirit of Dunedin" could have been underwritten by Wilson Distillers, while the insipid "Dunedin - It's All Right Here" created confusion and criticism, but little cachet.

It's all right here? Shouldn't we be telling people it's great here?And only Dunedin could have come up with the mortifyingly embarrassing "It's All White Here" campaign for the visiting West Indian cricket team's test match in 2008.

And then affect hurt bewilderment when the rest of the country laughed at us.

"No-one on the committee who helped to come up with the idea considered any racial implications," Dunedin City Council spokeswoman Debra Simes said.


The recent University of Otago "Get over it" recruitment campaign also made locals cringe.

Get over what, exactly?


Dunedin was the first New Zealand city to develop a comprehensive branding strategy.

"Dunedin - It's All Right Here" was launched in 1988 and lasted until the mid-1990s.

DCC councillor and former mayor Richard Walls is the only person still on council who was involved with the original 1988 strategy.

"Our first positioning statement of any merit was `Dunedin - It's All Right Here'.

What that set out to do, supported with its great photographic images and copy, was say that you could find many, many things in one place - physical, cultural, educational, heritage, etc - that no other city in the world of our size could match.

"And it delivered brilliantly. For example, from being a scratch on the map for tourism, we leapt to the top of second-tier destinations in under three years.

Now we are in the top eight in New Zealand.

"Unfortunately, insufficient funding to maintain the campaigns that evolved lost the message and later tampering sunk it.

"Wellington made certain that did not happen with `Absolutely, Positively', which came from the same creative stable as `All Right', and it has served that city and region well.

"The tacky add-on in 1998 of `The Spirit of Dunedin' was doomed to failure for all sorts of reasons. Eventually, `I am Dunedin' evolved. It was a different positioning statement. Unlike `It's All Right Here', it focused on economic factors and, while it has been relatively successful, it did not umbrella-cover everything in Dunedin as a place to visit.

"Finding the right positioning statement is a challenge. The approach being taken this time around and involving widespread input will, hopefully, result in something that will really say what Dunedin is all about in the 21st century.

"What is being sought is something that succinctly encapsulates the city."

The DCC decided to sex up Dunedin in the late 1990s, after two decades of northern drift, feeling that the perception of the city held by the rest of New Zealand was quite different to the reality of what Dunedin was and what it had to offer.

Young families, skilled workers, business professionals and students were targeted, through campaigns such as "That's the Spirit of Dunedin" (1998), "I am Dunedin" (2001), "Are You Ready for Dunedin Life?" (2004) and "We Are Ready for You" (2005).

And it appeared to work.

For three consecutive years, market research surveys showed that Dunedin was the "most remembered city" in New Zealand.

But, there were also negative perceptions of the city to overcome, such as a perceived lack of employment opportunities and cooler, wetter weather.

DCC-commissioned surveys have found that Dunedin's strengths are its character and charm, relaxed pace of life, strong cultural scene, low housing costs, proximity to scenery and activities in the hinterland and on Otago Peninsula.

The council has also liaised with community groups and various stakeholders to identify the city's unique qualities and "personality".

The feedback was that Dunedin's unique qualities are: freedom; independence; space; it is boutique; creative; has buzz; a wow factor; and you can make a difference.

The "personality" of Dunedin is: can do; defiant; oriented to quality and substance; cultured; witty; unpredictable; and it has unexpected treasures, experiences and people.

Overall, Dunedin was perceived as a student city, cold, traditional and conservative with a Scottish heritage, a laid-back lifestyle, old buildings and a friendly place to live.

City council marketing team leader Jennifer Hooker says the search for a new identity is "exciting", although it remained to be seen whether it would incorporate a new slogan.

"We're incredibly open to new ideas. We're not prejudging anything," she told the ODT.

"We've done a huge amount of groundwork and it is still early days in the development of the overall strategy."

The new marketing strategy had to work for the city, tourism, education and local residents and would be used to promote Dunedin as an attractive place to live, work, study and do business, she said.

It was also important to not only attract people to Dunedin, but ensure that the infrastructure - including employment, education and health facilities - were here to support them.

"It's about our economic, social and cultural wellbeing. We want the right type of people to come to Dunedin - people who will like what they'll find here," Ms Hooker said.

Once again, the council has collaborated with key stakeholders to develop the promotional strategy, including the Otago Chamber of Commerce, Otago Polytechnic, Otago Southland Employers Association, Tourism Dunedin, the University of Otago and Otago Daily Times publisher Allied Press.

University of Otago School of Business Department of Marketing senior lecturer Dr Andrea Insch says the project should be embraced as an opportunity to do some good, hard, honest self-appraisal.

"I think it's a really good opportunity for Dunedin to look at redefining itself. Dunedin can benefit from being more bold, confident and aspirational. We're often too modest," she says.

"Let's get a bit more upbeat, positive and creative in how we deliver the message. The essence of the brand has got to be bolder than it has been before and smarter in its execution.

"Who are we and what do we want? What do we stand for? What is it that we love about Dunedin? It's difficult to sum up in a few words, because Dunedin means different things to different people.

It's a tripartite relationship between aspects of Dunedin's past, present and future and trying to bring these elements together is challenging.

"The problem with most city promotional campaigns is that they don't get down to the grass roots level. They never do.

"I think they miss out on the most important stakeholder, which is the residents, who are a valuable source of ideas. They're also the brand ambassadors, who live and breathe the brand every day.

"We should be developing mechanisms to get residents more engaged in the process from the beginning," she says.

"Building a statement first can be counterproductive. A slogan shouldn't be the starting point, but decision-makers become fixated with it. A slogan, or a logo is not a brand. They are devices or short-cut mechanisms to trigger associations that people have with the brand. Cities need a convincing creative concept and strategy to back it up, or it's going to fall over.

"I think it's appropriate to take a more strategic approach, because it really depends what Dunedin's priorities are.

"What are the goals over the next 20 years? What we are trying to achieve?

"I don't think we've been clear on that or how it links to the brand strategy.

"I think Dunedin has a unique personality. It's quite alternative in some ways, which provides members of the community with opportunities to think differently.

"In the location and environment we're in, we've had to adapt and find solutions in different ways.

"In developing a city brand strategy, a key issue not to be forgotten is: What's the return on investment? You need measures of performance that gauge the benefits to stakeholders.

"Dunedin needs a brand that's going to survive, rather than another throwaway phrase. We've had three slogans in the last 20 years, but it is unclear whether these campaigns have achieved their goals for the city's social and economic development.

"Developing a brand and implementing the strategy is a long-term commitment. The brand position needs to be supported by credible research and endorsement from major stakeholders.

"In particular, internal audiences, residents and business operators, need to commit to it, because after all, they represent the brand.

"The city's brand must also resonate with external audiences, those groups or segments we want to attract, and hopefully convert to loyal brand customers and followers.

If boosting residents is Dunedin's ambition, then how can the brand be leveraged to achieve this goal? Ultimately, the brand must be credible. It's essential that how you portray yourself is how you're perceived."

The benefits of a strong slogan are undeniable, but fraught with peril.

The "100% Pure New Zealand" campaign launched in 1999 has been credited with doubling visitor numbers to New Zealand in 10 years.

In the same period, foreign exchange earnings from this source increased from $3.5 billion to $5.9 billion.

However, the slogan has struggled at times to meet Dr Insch's criteria of credibility.

It has been challenged as presenting a greener view of the country than the facts support.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly believes the 100% Pure campaign has also made a rod for our back.

"The danger in holding up `clean and green' as a banner to describe ourselves is that it is very excluding - it excludes many aspects of our work and our lives. It's more mythology than statement of reality," he said recently.

"People overseas find our countryside beautiful, but they tend to mention our people more. We seem to have a view that any chink in our environment will badly compromise our clean, green image in the eyes of the world."

Government agency Tourism NZ has adroitly negotiated the challenges to our clean-green marketing by claiming 100% Pure is "about the experience, rather than the environment".

Tourism NZ spokeswoman Cas Carter says the international market understands that 100% Pure is a tourism brand and not meant to reflect the country's environment.

"It's about the combination of things you can't do in any other country.

The hongi, for instance, is promoted as a 100% pure New Zealand experience," she said.

"[But] the landscape is the main reason by far for people to come to New Zealand."

There are lessons there, as there are in Auckland's recent rebranding.

The metropolis formerly known as the "City of Sails" spent $1.8 million on a promotional campaign last year to create the jaunty catchcry "Big Little City".

It was hoped it would rival the capital's phenomenally successful "Absolutely Positively Wellington", which has been used since 1991.

But, "Big Little City" has gone down like a lead balloon in the big smoke.

"The words evoke no emotion or offer any value proposition," Newmarket Business Association head Cameron Brewer thundered.

"These three words will not motivate one person off their couch and into their car. `Big Little City' says, and means, absolutely nothing to the average New Zealander."

Austrian social ecologist Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909-2005) once said the aim of marketing was "to make selling superfluous".

With that in mind, probably the best marketing campaign in recent years was Tourism Queensland's "Best job in the world" promotion last year to find a caretaker for Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

The campaign attracted more than 34,000 applicants from around the world.

Tourism Queensland says it generated at least $99.69 million of equivalent media advertising space, while industry estimates have put the international value of the exposure at more than $174.5 million.

The three-year campaign, which cost Tourism Queensland just $1.7 million, has proven so successful that typing "Best Job in the World" into Google nets you 553,000,000 entries.

The job eventually went to Ben Southall (34) from Hampshire, England.

His six-month tenure finished on January 1.

Perhaps we should bring him here and stick him on Quarantine Island.


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