The Press, April 2009

It’s a car (stuck in traffic) . . . no a light train. . . no it’s SUPERAUCKLAND. An 800 page royal commission report told us two weeks ago what most average people had concluded from observing the city’s chaotic and clogged transport system – Auckland will work a lot better as one city. Will it help improve the Auckland city ‘brand’ as the report’s authors hope?

The suggested reforms, still subject to government approval, will combine the existing Rodney District, North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland, and Manukau Cities, and Franklin District territorial authorities into a single entity. Reports have the super city costing between $120 million to $240 million over four years, while producing annual savings of $76 million to $113 million by 2015.

Improving the region’s infrastructure, economic development and inward investment were highlighted as outcomes by the royal commission.

Another benefit cited was improving Auckland’s “regional branding and positioning on the international stage.” The report said “successful cities have a strong and consistent image and identity both internationally and in the minds of their residents; for example, New York is the Big Apple, Paris is the City of Love.”

They also noted “the example of Wellington’s ‘Absolutely Positively Wellington’ brand in dramatically transforming how that city is seen. Its image has changed from being a somewhat staid, windy national capital dominated by public servants to a vibrant, creative community with a thriving arts scene, and a great nightlife, public architecture, and amenities.”

So a clever Saatchi’s advertising campaign of the 1990s transformed Wellington? And all Auckland needs to become as famous as New York or Paris is some bureaucrats dreaming up a promotional gimmick with an advertising agency?

Not when one of the failed efforts at creating an Auckland brand, was the 1998 Auckland “A” campaign where you were meant to fashion your hands into an “A” shape.

The commission fails to understand that brands are not purely manufactured by the owner or manager of an entity. You can’t just call the creative gurus and assume everything will be fine.

Brands are built by customers not companies. They are the pictures we hold in our minds of something. Those pictures are built from every experience we have with an entity – so the McDonalds brand is built not only from the fancy adverts we see, but from everything including the taste of their Cheeseburgers through to the cleanliness of their toilets.

It is a common marketing mistake to invest too much importance in names, logos and clever taglines. Of course they make a contribution to how your audience perceives you, but it is the customer’s experience of what you offer that builds a great brand.

Proof exists in the fact I still like the following places, despite their tag lines. Timaru is great even though they ask you ‘Touch, taste, feel Timaru’, Christchurch was the ‘City that shines’, Hamilton ‘More than you’d expect’, Dannevirke ‘Take a liking to a Viking’, Matamata: ‘You matter in Matamata’ and the riskiest one for visitors unfamiliar with te reo, ‘Stop and taste Te Puke’.

A combined super city structure isn’t needed for ‘brand Auckland’ to be built in my mind. Auckland has always been Auckland, a big city that just doesn’t seem to operate that well.

I don’t tell my wife I’m off to a business trip to Rodney or Waitakere, I say I’m flying to Auckland. The sign on the road from the airport might say welcome to Manukau City but it is clear to me I’m heading into the centre of Auckland.

The other city councils are just internal constructs for organising the city - they were irrelevant to me and many other people experiencing Auckland. We mostly haven’t bothered with Manukau or Waitakere or Rodney, it has simply been Auckland. I can only imagine the thousands of dollars wasted trying to promote these various pseudo-cities in recent years.

The multi-city approach has been at the root of Auckland’s poor brand, but not because they haven’t agreed on a nice Auckland logo. As Australian transport expert Paul Mees pointed out in a recent Sunday Star Times article, Auckland has spent more on roads, per head, than any Australian city but has worse congestion. And remember all that inter-Council bickering that destroyed any chance the city had of getting a Cake Tin quality standard in central Auckland. It is these kind of issues that have diminished Auckland’s image.

A super city may lead to Auckland becoming a Paris of the Pacific, or the New York of the Southern Hemisphere. But it will result from a great feeling created for residents and visitors, not from a single, big bureaucracy with a single, big marketing budget. And that experience will come from a smooth transport system, good public facilities, a strong business environment etc.

Your brand is rooted in the benefit you deliver customers. The best marketing you can do is understand what those positive things are and emphasise and strengthen them. That’s what will make Auckland super.

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