Sea change: the evolution of the Ports of Auckland branding

In the wee hours of the morning most of us are either still dreaming or heading home after a big night out. But while we do, a small group of dedicated individuals shift tonnes of goods around New Zealand’s largest port. On average, one third of New Zealand’s sea trade passes through Auckland’s wharves and it’s worth about $27 billion per year. It really is the gateway to the Pacific and the world. 

Not a place for the faint-hearted, the port has been the focus of industrial action and debate about expansion as Aucklanders have eyed up its wharves and local footprint. As you walk around the oversized container world with huge cranes you feel a real sense of pride among those on the job because of the value they add to the New Zealand economy.

The Auckland port has always been there, right? Cargo and passengers from around the globe and throughout New Zealand have always passed across its wharves. So what’s changed? The port’s visual identity. But why? Over the last few decades the focus in Auckland has shifted more to the waterfront. At the same time, changes to security and safety rules have made the port less accessible to the public. You can’t just wander on to a working wharf and go fishing. This has weakened the connection people feel with the port and the job it does: bringing ashore the goods you find in the shops and sending our exports to the world.

So the port wanted to improve that connection, to find ways of ‘opening up’ and as part of that wanted to create a new, more modern, more open brand.

There are a few good reasons why you should consider changing your visual identity. If you answer yes to any one of these, like the port did, you might want to think about it. But tread carefully. The whole process can be fraught with reactions that can resemble a chimpanzee tea party (66,870 tonnes of bananas came through the port last year, by the way). The questions you need to ask are: has there been a change of ownership, core business or name? Is the logo and identity hard to reproduce? Is the ‘image’ of the brand aligned with its long-term strategy? Is there brand confusion? Has the organisation or its audience fundamentally changed?

Ports of Auckland answered yes to this last question and we think they got it right. Our visual identity strategic discovery phase revealed a lot of positives and a few negatives that needed to be addressed. Rather than a radical change we recommended an evolutionary approach, building on the brand equity and integrity of the existing core visual identity.

We began with refreshing the logo, breaking it out of the box, giving it a contemporary redraw. This addressed some of the tricky detail in the original logo. In line with the research, we addressed the weighting of the logotype, elevating Auckland to a more prominent status over the functional name. We also introduced the Te Reo translation Tamaki Herenga Waka, reflecting the significance of the Māori​ heritage within the area.

The colour palette was freshened. Restrictive grid elements were replaced with an open, assured and confident aesthetic. Bold imagery moved, from solely chest beating size and volume, to telling a more human story. Real people work here so rather than keep the audience at a distance we’ve invited them in, even if they don’t want to be up at 4.15am. 

Working with the port for over five years, we’ve introduced easy-to-digest information graphics that have formed many of their more recent corporate and community documents. This accessible visual language has helped break down information about the port’s value. We’ve also actively shifted the tone of voice to encourage dialogue and engagement. 

The port asked the right questions and were quick to appreciate that one of its most valuable assets, the brand’s visual identity, needed to keep up with the changes the organisation had been through. Evolution was the right approach for a place that’s always been there for 175 years, continuously doing what it does best, for Auckland and all of New Zealand. 

  • Brian Slade is the creative director of Insight. [email protected]    
  • This story was initially published as part of a content partnership in the May/June edition of NZ Marketing.

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