When is a brand just a tag line or the punch line to a joke?

I see that Pat Deakin has to assemble the would be branders and their magic words, conduct some poll or other, and turn them into some form of marketing tag that will have us all marching in the same direction. Adding it to our letter heads, cards, websites, foreheads ...we were all so supportive to the last effort after all, on a fast track to nowhere.
I get confused between smiles, hearts, fish'in and what ever else will appear in this looney business. Although I haven't bothered to seek out chapter and verse, it seems that even the marketing gurus have moved away from 'branding' for such vague entities as communities. Edmonton has dropped 'City of champions' for obvious reasons.
When a group of us were asked to name a community brand the other evening all we could come up with was 'Life at the edge' . Of what was unclear .. the cliff, desperation, bankruptcy ... nor were we sure it was Ukee or Tuff ... ah well, must be me.
Sugar waters have brands, the rest of us have aspirations. Nor do pretty pictures build a brand, although they may well encourage visitors - which is a fair objective for the CofC.
I see that the Alberni Clayoquot Health Network has managed to spend $261k of VIH money since 2012 on a plan with no noticeable measurables, accomplishments and no noticeable change in health outcomes - did I hear correctly that teen pregnancies were back up again? How many out there have no regular doctor? Ken McRae used to get incensed about these health issues, understanding correctly that a negative story in the TC did more damage than all the tag lines and pretty pictures could undo in a year of facebook hits and instagram shared sunsets.
As always in life, follow the money. Puts me in mind of my brand choice for city hall 'Bring money, we'll do the rest'.