Wellington remains absolutely positive

17:54, Jan 06 2014
The new Absolutely Positively Wellington logo.

Singer Neil Diamond loved the idea behind the city's Absolutely Positively Wellington logo so much that he discounted the rights to use his song I'm a Believer in the advertising campaign.

It was back in 1991 when APW first became synonymous with the capital's emerging mojo. It ushered in an era when our cafe scene began to flourish, Courtenay Place was being transformed into party central, and our tired civic sector was being upgraded.

The funky APW campaign also helped cast aside Wellington's image of a grey bureaucratic haven where men wearing walk shorts, socks and sandals, gripped their briefcases for dear life while being buffeted by gale force winds on their way to and from work.

Absolutely Positively Wellington
POSITIVE MOVES: The original Absolutely Positively Wellington logo, as it appeared in the first APW ad. The campaign successfully sought to challenge the negative stereotype of Wellington city.

Fast forward to November and the new Absolutely Positively Wellington logo - which features a plus sign and new Absolutely yellow and Positively black shades from Resene - came in for criticism with some saying it looked like a church advert.

The new logo will be used only for tourism purposes while Wellington City Council considers whether to find an alternative.

How we ended up with the APW logo, and how it came to be the standard to which other New Zealand cities aspire, is mired in time.


Following the stockmarket crash of 1987, the city struggled to get back on its economic feet.

By the early 1990s the city's skyline of cranes on construction sites had all but disappeared, unemployment was high, and companies were closing their doors.

The advertising boss of The Dominion Post forerunners - The Dominion and The Evening Post - was Ty Dallas, now a Wellington commercial leasing and real estate agent.

He said at the time there was a "disproportionate amount of negative news" in both newspapers.

"I went cap in hand to both editors seeking slightly toned down stories. The proposition was all these major companies were spending millions of dollars with the newspapers in an environment of very negative stories. They were concerned about that."

The concerns fell on deaf ears.

"The editors of both newspapers said . . . without fear or favour we must continue to report the news."

That prompted Dallas to approach ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to help create a positive newspaper campaign to promote thriving and innovative businesses.

Former Saatchi chief executive Kim Wicksteed said the agency came up with the idea of "showing people getting off their bum and doing something about their life".

"We profiled people like Stefan Lepionka, the [Stefan's Orange] juice guy. He was getting up at three in the morning and squeezing oranges into his converted agitator washing machine and then going around with fresh orange juice to sell to hotels in the morning."

Wellington Newspapers gave free space on its pages for the advertising profiles. Saatchis did not get paid a cent.

"We must have done eight or 10 of them. At the bottom right hand corner was the little logo Absolutely Positively Wellington. I was with the creative guys when they cracked the three words," Wicksteed said.

The Absolutely Positively Wellington logo and intellectual property were gifted to the city council by Wellington Newspapers boss Ian Wells, who passed away peacefully on Saturday.

In return Wellington Newspapers received the city's coat of arms which featured on its stationery.

Dallas said the city's APW campaign was launched at the Beehive in September 1991 by Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Entertainer John Rowles performed at the event which was attended by prominent Wellington retailers.

The campaign was extended to include APW-branded buntings (strings of flags), coffee mugs, mats, and T-shirts.

"We had requests for the Absolutely Positively Wellington T-shirt from all over the world.

"Some marketing people told us we had to add New Zealand on the sleeve because tourists were buying it. We probably sold 20,000 T-shirts.

"We also had enquiries from American and Australian cities requesting details of the campaign, wanting to duplicate the campaign in their cities," Dallas said.

It was decided that an APW television campaign was needed to add another dimension.

A series of ads were shot featuring a cover version of I'm a Believer, the Neil Diamond-penned smash hit by The Monkees.

Both Dallas and Wicksteed said Diamond discounted the rights to the song because he was taken with the whole notion of the APW campaign.

Back in the day Michael Baines was secretary of the Wellington Regional Retailers Association which was involved in the campaign.

"Absolutely Positively Wellington quickly became the benchmark that every other city measured itself and aspired to be."

At the time a billboard company offered to erect APW signs on empty billboard sites until they had paying advertisers, Baines said.

"The best one was at the bottom of the Parnell Rise in Auckland. The grizzles and moans we got out of Auckland was fantastic but nobody defaced it."

Dallas was insistent that any credit he received for the success of the original APW logo and campaign should be shared with Wicksteed.

However, Dallas is disappointed with the latest logo unveiled in November.

"[It] is dull and pedestrian and lacks creativity. It simply does not engage."

It is a different story for Wicksteed.

"I'm really relaxed with it," he said.

"The fact that the city is still using Absolutely Positively Wellington after 20-odd years is quite extraordinary. Usually these things change as often as a council does."

But Wicksteed said the city should be working harder on delivering what the saying actually means.

"Wellington should be the easiest place in the world to do business. Our local government should cut the red tape to enable stuff to happen. That is the mandate that the brand gives."

The first APW advert, featuring I'm a Believer:

The Dominion Post