Branding Dunedin

The Dunedin City Council-led branding strategy for the city unveiled last week could almost be labelled an anti-branding plan.

It involves neither slogan nor logo and as such is either a touch of genius or a receptacle for hot air.

Only time will tell which, but either way, it is a radical and refreshing departure from the chocolate box sloganeering that has come to underpin the marketing efforts of cities and local government during the past decade or two.

Some of these were inspired and struck a chord with the place and the particular moment in time; others were contrived and embarrassing.

The change of tack of itself is suggestive of innovative thinking, but since it involves not inconsiderable ratepayer funds, and the heavy artillery support as "brand partners" of several of the major organisations in the city, and because at its heart appears to be the intention to involve Dunedin people in contributing to it, the strategy deserves serious consideration.

And herein lies its first challenge: as much as they are meat and potatoes for the mockers and the cynics, at least slogans and logos provide visual or substantive clues to the philosophical thrust of an identity; as it has thus far been revealed, some might say there is little to evaluate in the just-launched strategy beyond a yet-to-be unveiled new typeface, and "a consistent photographic style". This is not entirely true.

Brand Dunedin - comprising brand partners Allied Press (owners of the Otago Daily Times), Dunedin City Council, Dunedin Venues, Otago Chamber of Commerce, Otago Polytechnic, Otago Southland Employers' Association, Tourism Dunedin and the University of Otago - last week appointed two creative agencies to work together to help promote the city.

They are the Dunedin-based company BrandAid+ and Auckland-based company Projector Media Ltd.

It announced there would not be a new slogan "because `Dunedin' is the brand".

Further, that as a result of two years' work to arrive at this point, the brand partners had come up with a scheme the aim of which was "developing a genuine city-wide collaborative approach to all future Dunedin city marketing".

The clear objective was "to promote Dunedin's values and beliefs in order to attract and retain the kind of people who will make a positive contribution to the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the city".

The intention now is to give residents a say in how the city is portrayed and promoted, to "uncover the real Dunedin".

This, in turn, will create a profile that, according to DCC chief executive Jim Harland, "will enable Dunedin to present itself in a compelling and cohesive way and attract like-minded people to consider the city as an attractive place in which to live, work, do business, study and visit".

The strategy will cost $500,000 a year, funds already budgeted for.

The amount is the same as has been spent annually on marketing the city for the past 10 years or so.

The hope is, of course, that in time the investment will be repaid many times over, not only by providing an enhanced sense of identity in which Dunedinites take pride, but also by acting as a magnet for investment, economic activity, and new residents, as well as social and cultural events and programmes.

There is, in fact - and as difficult as it is to pin down at this point the specifics - solid thinking behind the strategy.

Achieving buy-in from such a powerful group of brand partners is a major coup; the other, if it can be made to work, is reaching out to residents and incorporating something of the multiplicity of "identities" the city boasts into the "brand" without it becoming so nebulous as to be meaningless.

Doubtless this is where the two creative agencies will earn their spurs, for arguably, it is in this often contradictory multiplicity that Dunedin's essence lies: proud yet humble; conservative yet innovative; rugged yet refined; poetic yet down-to-earth; sports-obsessed yet cultured; contrary yet hospitable.

The oppositions are almost endless; perhaps they always have been.

The fact remains that Dunedin has a proud history and heritage.

It has, despite or perhaps because of our routine contretemps, a healthy present; and it can have a prosperous and inclusive future.

Taking meaningful steps towards realising the latter is the test by which the new branding strategy will ultimately be measured.


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