A full-page newspaper advertisement by Wellington's economic development agency has been slammed for being out of touch with the city and criticised for having no public health or council services information.

The issue has united local MPs from across the political spectrum who told the Herald that what people needed in a pandemic was information, not "pretty pictures in the newspaper".

On Saturday Wellington NZ, a council-controlled organisation, launched a campaign centred on putting the "We" in Wellington during the Covid-19 outbreak.

This was done in conjunction with the council, but it's understood Wellington NZ took the lead on the project and did the design work. The first city councillors heard of it was in the newspaper.

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An entire page in the Dominion Post was taken out for the launch, which featured the word "We" in large font with a heart behind it followed by the message "are absolutely all in this together".

Councillor Nicola Young said it was a "wasted opportunity" to promote serious health messages and explain changes to council services like recycling.

"I was staggered because I thought the content was absolutely facile.

"We're facing a pandemic where people need information not cosy statements like that. I thought it was embarrassing."

An entire page in the Dominion Post was taken out for the launch of the 'We Wellington' campaign. Image / Screenshot.
An entire page in the Dominion Post was taken out for the launch of the 'We Wellington' campaign. Image / Screenshot.

Councillor Rebecca Matthews said if councillors had been included in the decision-making, she would have cautioned on "going too early" with anything that could be perceived as a spend on marketing.

"If it's a full page in the newspaper, it needs to have decent information that Wellingtonians can use."

A Wellington City Council spokesman said the organisation didn't have to consult on everything but was trying hard to keep elected members involved and up to date in a fast-moving context.

Going from one extreme to the other, the council has advertised in the Dominion Post today with what is almost exclusively text.

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Today's advertisement in the Dominion Post. Image / Screenshot.
Today's advertisement in the Dominion Post. Image / Screenshot.

Wellington NZ marketing and communications general manager Anna Calver said "We Wellington" was a twist on Absolutely Positively Wellington, highlighting a caring spirit and how people were supporting one another.

The full-page advertisement was a one-off and the campaign would largely come to life digitally via social media, like Facebook profile frames saying "we stay home", Calver said.

"As there is substantial public health messaging from Central Government around staying home, it wasn't included on the print ad. On reflection, we accept a public health message could've been added.

"Our main messaging we're running at the moment as Wellington NZ is encouraging people to #LoveLocal and support local businesses, many of which are doing it really tough at the moment."

Wellington NZ would not disclose the cost of the advertisement but Calver said it was "heavily discounted".

Mayor Andy Foster sent an email to councillors yesterday after concerns about the campaign were raised in a Zoom meeting.

"I have passed on councillors' view that in future publicity we include, to the extent possible, practical information", he said.

Rongotai MP Paul Eagle said the council was completely out of touch.

"I understand they were trying to do a feel-good piece but it was completely inappropriate.

"What people are expecting from the city at the moment is some decisive leadership around what a recovery plan is going to look like, not pretty pictures in the newspaper."

Wellington based National list MP Nicola Willis shared his concerns and also questioned why councillors were not directing crucial public communication over a crisis.

"People want practical information and that would give people more warm fuzzies than a nice yellow background", she said.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website