Don’t Confuse Brand Promise and Advertising Campaign


I recently had a conversation with an economic development professional who told me her community had just launched a new brand to promote the location for capital investment. She had previously heard my presentation on place branding in which I define a brand as a promise that sets an expectation of an experience. She couldn’t reconcile why a new campaign meant her community had a new brand.

… Because it doesn’t.

That conversation made me realize there is still confusion in the economic development community about the topic of branding.



A promise that sets an expectation of an experience. A good brand is relevant, competitive and authentic. If you are talking with a Creative Agency, this is sometimes called brand essence. During my career at P&G, we referred to the concept as brand equity. Dr. Kevin Keller (Tuck School of Business) likes the term brand mantra. Today, I prefer the term promise because everybody understands what a promise is and intuitively know that promises should be kept, not broken.

Classic Brand Promises (a.k.a. brand essence, brand equity, brand mantra)

Nike – Authentic Athletic Performance

Hallmark – Caring Shared

Disney – Fun Family Entertainment

Starbucks – Rewarding Everyday Moments


– The creative communication platform that brings the brand to life in the minds and hearts of your strategic target audience. Campaigns are built on a deep understanding of the benefits your brand delivers. A campaign is comprised of a series of messages that share a single idea and theme delivered across relevant touch points over a specific period of time.

Short Hand

Promise – What you want to communicate.

Campaign – How you communicate it.


The trick is to keep things simple when thinking about branding. It is conceptually easy, but can get complicated in a hurry in execution. When in doubt, just go back to the basics and reorient yourself. Your community promise is a long-term strategic choice. Nike promises you that you will experience an authentic athletic performance if you purchase any one of their products. The Nike Marketing Team and Creative Agency communicate that promise to you through well-coordinated campaigns. The Nike promise has permanence. The campaigns are transient and judged good or bad based on how well they communicate the promise.

Like Nike, your community brand is a promise. How you choose to communicate that promise to a specific target audience is the basis for a campaign. It is okay to have a different campaign for different target audiences. For example, you would likely not communicate your community promise exactly the same way to a back-office service company executive as you would a manufacturing company CEO. In my experience, there is a good chance that, at a minimum, the reasons to believe your community promise would be different (e.g. different assets would be important).


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10 Comments so far

  1. Bill Baker

    March 24, 2011

    Among the worst culprits for this are some state and national tourism offices with big budgets that do not have an underlying brand platform and promise for the place, but launch new campaigns that are referred to as their new brand strategy. I totally agree with you.

  2. James Mahoney

    March 24, 2011

    From my point of view with 30+ years in the biz, Ed, this is excellent information and well said.

  3. Melanie Furey

    March 24, 2011

    Another facet to the brand promise is recognition. If your message is easily forgotten, your promise becomes pointless. A sustaining message with quality and integrity is key to any promotion. In a time when our community members are bombarded with messages and ads, its important to make your brand promise shine above the rest.

  4. Sara Dunnigan

    March 25, 2011

    Thanks for this post! I have seen many many many campaigns in economic development but very few authentic brands. I think in some efforts to convey info about every asset, we overcomplicate and that leaves the consumer feeling confused. So many campaigns read such that ANY community’s name could be in the tag line!

    Effective brands are simple and powerful ( and believable ;)).

  5. Don McEachern

    March 25, 2011

    Good and helpful post Ed. As requested, here is a little more on the subject in the context of a community-wide brand.

    A community’s strategic brand platform (or brand promise) is centric to the community. A communication campaign then leverages that platform for a particular purpose with a particular audience.

    A community’s strategic brand platform should outlast the careers of all the stakeholders involved. A communication campaign will have a shelf life dependent on how effective it is delivering the desired result.

    Most communities make the mistake of skipping the essential step of thoughtfully and scientifically determining their community’s brand platform. There is but one path to an agreed-upon strategic platform within the unwieldy, decision-by-committee nature of a community-wide branding effort. That path is research . . . research that considers not only the opinions of the different stakeholders involved, but the various consumer audiences and the competitive situation as well. You are operating in the land of collective opinion, which merely exacerbates the organizational disadvantage community’s face relative to consumer goods and service providers. Once you have gained a true understanding of your community’s reputation in a rigorous and scientific fashion, then you are able to gain consensus around a strategic brand platform. The research process allows you to collaborate imaginatively, effectively and openly with business and civic society to agree on a community strategy – a narrative of who this community is, where it is going and how it will get there – which honestly reflects the skills, the genius and the will of the people. This strategy is centric to the community as a whole – not geared to a specific audience or sector.

    With a relevant and distinct strategic platform in place, a community’s various communication campaigns can target specific audiences for specific purposes. These campaigns still leverage the community’s known (or newly discovered) advantages but it can do so in an authentic voice that is unique the community. This approach not only makes for a more effective communication campaign but it also works to grow equity in the brand helping it to become a true asset for the community.

  6. Collette Hanna

    March 31, 2011

    Great article. This reminds me also of hearing an economic developer refer to the brand of the community as the logo. Thanks for clarifying the brand as something we associate with or a feeling that is evoked that is promoted by logos, campaigns, experiences with the product or program or community. It becomes an even bigger challenge to have that brand promise delivered when visitors come to the city. I think this part is probably missed the most. It seems that it would almost be in the best interest of a community to determine what its assets already are – rather than what they WANT them to be – and build the brand around the positive attributes that the community already offers. Otherwise, they’re trying to create and promote a brand that doesn’t exist, and thereby hard to deliver on (e.g. selling waterfront property in Arizona).

  7. Sumit Roy

    April 3, 2011

    Hi Ed:

    I wanted to congratulate you on the clarity you have bought to the confusion between Brand Promise and a Campaign Idea.

    Just that I am left with a niggling doubt.

    And that’s the difference between a Brand Truth and Brand Promise.

    (I see that you have equated Brand Promise with Brand Essence, Brand Equity, etc.)

    Unfortunately each of those terms also mean different things. Used well, they can be very enlightening. But that’s not the point of this post.

    I love the brevity with which you have articulated the Brand Promises of Nike, Hallmark, Disney and Starbucks.

    For that alone you should be commended.

    Now for my niggling doubt.

    You see: Products have Rationales; Brands have Emotionales.

    And while you are quite right in the way you have expressed the Rational Brand Promise for these brands, you have not pointed out the Emotional Need these brands satisfy. And that’s at the “heart”, pun intended, of understanding the essence of these brands.

    Now the comments I make henceforth is likely to have the perspective of a world citizen who has never actually been to the US. Except for the three days in New York when I was invited to judge the EFFIEs. (Had to slip that one in. Just in case, you thought I knew nothing about brands 🙂 But since I do not have personal experience of the US consumer, I admit that I might be off base with my following comments.

    1. Have you noticed who actually buys Nike? In South East Asia, it’s a fashion brand. More people wear them with jeans and casual wear than who wear it for actual sports activities.

    I would imagine that that’s true for those who walk to their own beat while rapping in Harlem

    I am pretty sure that in the previous century the Nike brand stood for “being recognised as being unorthodox”. Or being “anti-establishment”. And that’s why the “Just Do It” campaign resonated across the world.

    But soon the problem became that every one had a Nike. Nike WAS the establishment.

    Which is when Nike crafted some brilliant campaigns. “Play” comes to mind. And the one’s you’ve shown.

    The point is this.

    All brands have an emotional benefit. Which need not be expressed very obviously in a Brand Promise.

    In fact it’s good to have a well articulated Rational Brand Promise and leave the Emotional Benefit of belonging to the “brand tribe” left unsaid. At least in the advertising.

    The “Tribe” will use the icons to “belong” to their chosen tribe. But they will use the Rational Brand Promise to justify why they paid such a premium for shoes that can be manufactured to the exact same specs at a tenth of the cost. No one really wants to say, even to themselves that I bought this gear because I want to be like my friends who are wearing them, too.

    And actually Nike is not just shoes. It is any iconic fashion wear one can use to say that “I belong to the Nike mindset”.

    That “mindset” is usually based on an obvious truth that the brand has chosen to own.

    2. The Disney brand promise is only half the story.

    What’s more interesting is the truth that “There’s a child in every adult”.

    And most adults are desperate to recapture their childhood through their own children.

    If you want more proof, just count whether the families that go to Disneyland have more adults or more children.

    Of course you must promise the “adults” that you’ll have a day of Fun, Family, Entertainment.

    But guess who gets the most thrill out of seeing their child shake Mickey’s hand? Or screams loudest on a ride?

    Which adult will admit to secretly wanting to become a child again?

  8. Kimberly Ratcliff

    April 27, 2011


    Thanks for your nudge to comment on one of your posts. I’ve been immersed in my new position and appreciated your reminder.

    This post was meaningful to me for various reasons. I’m working with several new clients on brand campaigns, and all of them are school districts. I think that most people — whatever the industry — who have a smattering of marketing experience tend to believe that there’s a necessary 1:1 relationship between a brand and a campaign.

    As you’ve described, it’s really a 1:many relationship, depending on target audience. Schools have vastly different target audiences, so delivering the brand promise requires multiple brand campaigns to be most effective. Same promise, shared with a different crowd.

    The other reason I liked the post is that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about brand promise in the context of thought leadership. I am working on a thought leadership plan, which is typically a set of public relations strategies and tactics. Over the years, and in part due to your influence, I’ve come to prefer the messaging of the brand promise and associated storytelling copy that supports that promise — instead of more formal (and at times antiseptic) language that tends to be perpetuated in many (not all) thought leadership efforts. It’s a workable PR/marketing hybrid — I call it thought leadership with passion or heart.

    Thanks again for your excellent thoughts and the ongoing opportunity to engage,


  9. Ed Burghard

    April 27, 2011

    Thanks to everybody for some outstanding comments. Just knowing this website and the blog posts are helping people think through branding concepts makes me feel great!

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