Branding Is Nowhere Without Operations

Jennifer Rice: An effective brand keeps its promises. Advertising should communicate the brand promise, and operations should fulfill it. Everything should work together. Think Apple, probably the most coherent brand on the planet.
I’m probably going to take some heat for this, but I personally don’t believe that a traditional ad agency can do an effective, unbiased job at brand strategy. Their primary sources of revenue are ongoing campaign development and media; the up-front strategy project is a means to an end.
The brand project deliverable from an agency is an ad campaign. The project deliverable from an independent brand strategy firm is a set of recommendations for every aspect of the business — including the internal culture — to bring it more in alignment with the open market opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong; the really good account-planning agencies do fantastic work in creating highly relevant, effective ads that reposition brands in a more positive light. It helps when the company is already delivering a positive experience but perhaps hasn’t figured out how to communicate it effectively. Yet I also strongly believe that since the ad agency is an outsider with no influence over operations, they cannot initiate or effect a fundamental brand shift when it’s necessary… unless they’re working for a client who understands how to translate the agency’s strategy into operations, and has the clout to get it done.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. She’s hot, who cares about brand promises?

  2. i will say that having worked at the ad agency for apple, and on the pitch that won the business, that the brand strategy was delivered by the agency.
    of course, it reunited lee clow and steve jobs, and the union has even led to the formation of apple’s own ‘branded ad agency’ (media arts lab)…and it may very well be one of those instances where the brand was acting provide a positive experience and the campaign brought that to the public, but nonetheless, the brand strategy and success of apple couldn’t have come without tbwa/chiat/day