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Rebranding the deep South: How Invercargill, the city with no brand, finally found its identity

Invercargill, when described by most who hail from or have called it home, is a humble, unassuming place. It’s a city where many talented Kiwis reside, but they’re not a fan of shouting their success from the rooftops.

It’s also a city that has been without a brand for some time, leaving it up to locals to create their own definition of the city’s identity.

The need for a rebrand of Invercargill was identified by retail strategy group First Retail in 2016, who was brought on board by the council to develop a new plan for the city’s retailers.

It found there wasn’t any key themes for local businesses to draw on or find success from, branding-wise.

“Invercargill was at a critical stage where there was a lot of ‘catch-up’ to do. Other cities have leapfrogged in popularity and found new purpose through fresh branding,” First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson said.

“Without a brand, Invercargill has instead been branded by others ­– often unfairly. This is a story about moving from vulnerability to strength.”

First Retail’s Wilkinson and Lorraine Nicholson, branding consultant and Wellington-based designer Tim Christie, Storbie’s Sam Howarth and Invercargill City Council’s Kari Graber came together to create a new look and feel for Invercargill.

There had been attempts to undertake a rebrand before, with slogans like “The Friendly City” and “The City of Water and Light” bandied about, but nothing had stuck.

Other ideas put forward such as “Invergiggle” had fallen flat or been labelled inappropriate.

Because of these previous efforts, Christie, who designed the new look, says there was a hesitancy to the idea of a new brand – which also tied into the conservative nature of Southerners.

“A few people talked about the ‘humble demeanour of Southerners’ and how that might be ‘holding us back’,” Christie says. “There was a clear sentiment that something strong and aspirational was required to help progress things and provide a catalyst for change.”

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In a genuine community effort, more than 300 local businesses were involved to decide on the direction of the brand through public consultation, drop-in sessions, online surveys and workshops.

The themes of attraction, pride and confidence were agreed upon as important to the overall brand. After consultations, Christie says there was an appetite for an identity that could help boost the attractiveness of the city as a whole, as well as giving the community a stronger sense of identity.

He says during the research-gathering process, an insight that emerged was the local community thought Invercargill was a place where anything was possible.

“There are many examples of locals who have followed their passions, got stuck in and achieved great success. Additionally, the lifestyle opportunities, affordability, infrastructure and facilities, Zero Fees and other initiatives, all add up to make Invercargill a place where you can make something of yourself,” Christie explains.

 Invercargill’s new logo turns the word Invercargill on its side to form a giant letter I, with no clear slogan.

Christie said this design decision was a deliberate choice.

“We really wanted to avoid the conventional approach of delivering a logo and strap-line, and capitalising on the letter ‘I’ emerged as a great way to do this.  It provided a fantastic opportunity to give the city an identity that works equally well as both a strong, iconic, stand-alone device and as a mechanism to express a plethora of messages in a visually cohesive way.”

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In a show of how much the logo’s been successfully embraced, the merchanise with it emblazoned on it is selling out, Christie says.

“Local retailers are already replenishing merchandise stock and online orders are steady,” he says. “The early signs are very, very positive. This has the potential to become an iconic Kiwi brand.”

Mayor Tim Shadbolt told The Southland Times the new rebrand is a success due to not being as pretentious as previous efforts.

“From my perspective, it focused its main message on the name Invercargill, which is quite a strong brand in itself. It’s the only city in the world called Invercargill, there’s hundreds of Wellingtons and Aucklands because everyone wanted to be named after a duke.”

The new branding is now visible on various billboards, council cars and merchandise about town. Businesses can also apply to the council to use the specially-designed letter on their products.

Christie says the various creative types that call Invercargill home now have a way to capitalise and show their success.

“Invercargill might just have the highest number of quiet achievers per capital anywhere in the world,” Christie says. “Occasionally they need to celebrate their successes and be reminded that this is a place where anything is possible.”

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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