by Herman Manson (@marklives) Marc Watson and James Moffatt promised themselves they would one day launch their own agency. When they did, they called it Promise.

“We started off with relatively small and inexperienced clients and the first part of the process with them was to develop a brand promise,” explains Moffatt. “In most cases we needed to educate the clients on what a brand promise means, and why it was important to have a consistent and relevant brand promise. We thought the best way to start the conversation was with our name. Of course, it also lends itself to our business ethics.”

Promise's Marc Watson and James Moffatt
Promise’s Marc Watson and James Moffatt.

Watson came from an art director background, and Moffatt was an account director. They launched without any clients from their dining-room table in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, and started cold-calling potential business.

Branded coffee mugs

Their first brief was for branding a series of coffee mugs. They lost money on the job — but it was their money to lose.

Initially, says Watson, the duo was unsure of how the agency would develop; they chose to let client-feedback guide them and let the agency develop organically around client needs.

The agency focused upon below-the-line work before developing into a through-the-line shop. Growth has been organic and the agency has made the most of opportunities with existing clients, continues Watson, entrenching itself with clients and, in Watson’s words, respecting client money as much as it does its own. Today, Promise Group employs 60 people.

Smart account

“The first retainer client was Golfers Club, and Promise soon moved into its first office space. In short order, an old client of Moffatt came calling and Promise landed the Smart car account from Mercedes-Benz. The team grew to 10 people. By 2010, this number would have grown to 30, and it was time for larger offices (the agency moved again in 2014 into the current office space).

Promise agency officesWatson says that, apart from wanting to work for themselves, they also wanted to create the kind of environment they wanted to work in. Building an agency culture aligned with this was a key challenge.

The agency believes in delivering hard-working work for clients, adds Moffatt. Those clients today include Renault, Edcon (CNA, Edcon Cellular), AfriSam and South African Breweries (Castle Lite, Redd’s and Brutal Fruit).

In 2011, the agency expanded its digital capabilities — finding the right skill-sets was hardest thing the agency has done to date, says Moffatt. Today, around 40% of its revenue comes through digital work and it’s continuing its investment in digital, social media and content.

Winning the Renault business was a key moment for the agency; initially it took the digital business. Two years later, the integrated account would be its as well, following a five-way pitch. It assisted the agency in developing its through-the-line credentials.

Advertising is dead

According to Moffatt, managing growth in a strained economy and not trying to grow too quickly has been important to the group’s financial health.

Moffatt says agencies are no longer in advertising — they are in the business of increasing sales, market share and brand value. Agencies need to take a responsible approach to what they can do with the budget available (ie not just blow it on a TV ad).

Promise agency officesWhat with the local economy barely dragging along, he sees clients battening down the hatches; interrogating their ROI from agencies more thoroughly; and procurement is becoming increasingly involved in agency selection.

Not for sale

Moffatt says Promise is not for sale; there is still a lot the group wants to achieve and it can be done as an independent. The group will also continue evolving in line with client needs.

“Who knows where it will take us next?” asks Watson, but they are willing to adapt and are ready for change.


Case study: Redd’s Africa

Challenge: SAB Africa had seen a decline in Redd’s consumption. It undertook rigorous R&D, through which it discovered that an entire revamp of the cider was needed. But how to communicate the intrinsic value of the newly improved beverage of a product that’s not as popular as it used to be?

Redd's truckSolution: Promise created a campaign positioning Redd’s as the perfect drink when you need to chill and wind down. It created the campaign line, “Relax with Redd’s” and invited consumers to do just that.

But how to get consumers to reconsider this new and improved cider? The lights had to be shot out on this one.

A custom Chill Chamber, designed to engage consumers on the processes that made the new liquid so much better, was built. Using a shipping container as the shell, a complete 5D experience was built that took the consumers on a fully immersive journey.

This promoter activation was taken across Botswana to consumption hotspots. Consumers were invited into the Chill Chamber where they experienced first-hand how the drink was created. As the four-minute AV began, consumers were instructed to put on their 3D glasses, sit back and Relax with Redd’s as they were taken on a journey from orchard to occasion.

All the senses were engaged — from icy gusts of wind and soft snowflakes used to portray the sub-zero filtration process to bubbles in the air depicting the cider’s effervescence and whiffs of a custom-designed apple scent to fully immerse the consumers. When the experience was over, consumers left with a clear reason to believe and were given a new Redd’s to complete their experience.

This was amplified below-the-line, as well as online, with an interactive map showing where the Chill Chamber was set to go next. To further entrench the campaign message, each venue was stocked with the new Redd’sWiFi Buckets, encouraging consumers to escape their everyday life.

Results: The campaign resulted in a sales volume increase of 900% over the corresponding period from the previous year. This has had a major impact on the brand share of the cider segment, which has increased by 80%.

A positive change in sentiment has been achieved, for example: “a brand that I want to be seen drinking”, “a brand that I can enjoy with my friends” and “a brand that is always coming up with something new.”

One of the brand’s most pertinent long-term objectives of positioning itself suitably for mixed-gender drinking occasions has been achieved. Today, more males are considering and consuming Redd’s than ever before.


Case study: JYOC — music in motion

Challenge: The Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company (JYOC), empowers children through classical music. While it remained young at heart, the JYOC’s branding had aged. It had lost relevance and needed a new brand identity that reflects what it is today — an orchestra for the modern age. Ways were explored to capture its essence in design. How the sound of the orchestra be translated into an identity? Experimenting with notes, instruments and arrangements, the answer was found.

Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company (JYOC)Solution: By taking popular pieces that were favourites among the orchestra, the movement of the music was used to inform Promise’s design. But how?

The conductor was turned into the designer and the paintbrush was given to the person who brought the music together. Tiny LED lights were attached to the conductor’s baton and timing hand, and then he had to do what he does best in a blacked-out room. From there, the light trails he created were captured with a camera set to long exposure. The fine lines and organic movement of the music created an endless pallet from which shapes and lines were pulled to build the logo and visual identity from scratch, from the darkness.

Refining his strokes, a new logo and visual identity were forged for the orchestra. These strokes were contextualised with information that landed the idea and, with different songs for different elements, the rebrand was entrenched across stationery, communication and even the orchestra’s new building.

Result: The result is an identity as captivating as the orchestra itself — an identity created by the music it represents.

All case-study material supplied by Promise.


Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every Monday and Thursday. Sign up here!


Published by Herman Manson is edited by Herman Manson. Follow us on Twitter -

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist