5 Ways to Spice Up Your Case Studies and Create a Lasting Impression

And 3 reasons why they often fail to captivate audiences' attention

Oftentimes, case studies fail to stick in people's memories and make the lasting impression that they're intended to make. Getty Images
Headshot of Bruce Henderson

Awards season is a whirlwind. Submission after submission, ceremony after ceremony. And for many, it climaxes with the big event in France. I have served as a judge at many of these shows: the Effies, the Clios, the D&ADs and more. As a result, I’ve watched thousands of case studies (500 in the last few months). And as important as they are to our industry, the majority of them suck. Why? Because they do a poor job of communicating the value of the work agencies do on behalf of their clients.

Case studies fail to enthrall for three main reasons.

  1. They’re advertisements for the creativity of the work. It’s understandable given the nature of our award competitions, but one crucial component is absent: the business case. What was the problem? Why was your solution/approach the right one? This is important because brands facing similar challenges often respond with “I’ll have what s/he is having.”
  2. Too many agencies either don’t establish measurable objectives for their projects or don’t have access to results, which is a problem. But you can’t begin to get the latter without the former. Today’s marketing is measured and expected to contribute to the bottom line. It’s not your mother’s cost center anymore; it’s a profit center.
  3. Our industry does a terrible job of educating people about the case study form, and there are few resources to help. No two case studies are alike, but at a minimum, a good one should convey a few basics such as the problem, solution and results. And many do not.

Awards aren’t just for agency vanity. They’re confirmation that we are doing something right. We need to change the way we are perceived by brands—in particular, CMOs who are under pressure to deliver results, and changing the way we present our work is one. Here are five tips that can help you create more effective case studies.

Awards aren’t just for agency vanity. They’re confirmation that we are doing something right.

Follow a simple formula

It starts with presenting the business challenge and insight that unlocked the creative idea. Then you need to share the elements of the campaign and measurable results. Numbers matter.

Storytelling that engages and persuades viewers

A great story has an effect on human attention and emotion and can build engagement and drive persuasion. Tension makes viewers release cortisol, which focuses their attention; warmth can make viewers release oxytocin, which makes them empathetic; and resolution makes viewers release dopamine, which makes them feel pleasure or satisfaction.

Create an outline and storyboard

Not enough case studies are thought through before they go into production. Any case study should be outlined before it is written or storyboarded. If the case doesn’t work in five or six sentences, production values won’t save it. A storyboard can save time and money in the edit room by establishing the narrative and identifying needed assets before the meter starts to run.

Pre-production and asset capture matters

Create a video case study rather than recreating it. Writing a script and creating a storyboard before a project launches or an activation takes place is the key. Determine what you want to shoot and go into a campaign or activation with a detailed shot list. Capture any and all social media or press in real-time if possible.

Music makes or breaks a case study

The best videos make people feel, not just think. Music is a critical element. There are a number of ways to find music that resonates emotionally. You can work with a music supervisor or if you or your editor have great taste that works, too. You can also license a track or have original music composed. But know this: The right music makes or breaks it.

Making effective cases studies helps to justify fees and ROI, interest prospective clients, educate employees and attract new ones. You may even do better in award competitions—but that should be the least important reason for changing your approach.

Bruce Henderson is the global chief creative officer at Jack Morton.