Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Case Study Deconstructed

Ad Agencies are really smart… just ask them

We have descended deeply into the age of the irrefutable, fool-proof, “look-at-us” Ad Agency Case Study. Today, we have video case studies, digital case studies, printed case studies and a neat, new tool-du-jour, the Infographic.

Funny, I worked in the ad agency business throughout the entire 1990’s and never once heard the term “Case Study” in our industry. It’s actually a phrase that I first became familiar with through my love for mid-century furniture — it’s called “case study furniture” and Charles Eames was the first designer I noticed to use these two words together. Today, one cannot visit an agency website without being bombarded by “case studies” at every click. How did we get here, people? One day we wake up, and all of a sudden, we’re so smart (just ask us).

This trend coincides with the “de-construction” of seemingly everything from my nachos and lasagna to clothing. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, excuse me, but I actually want my lasagna constructed. And as an agency biz dev person, I want my successes understated. I don’t want to tell prospects that I am “integrated”, I want to show them. In fact, I don’t want to tell them very much at all. I want to SHOW them. And then I want them to TELL ME what they need.

So in the spirit of deconstructionism, let’s take a look at the modern ad agency case study. There seems to be a particular template that most agencies follow. The boilerplate formula usually goes something like this:

Challenge > Insight > Tactics > Result

Sounds logical, huh? Let’s just spell out for everyone how smart we are. Let’s show them our chops. Here’s how it usually looks and sounds:


“When Acme Corporation came to us (actually, you harassed them for 3 years and finally, to get you off his back, a lowly Product Manager handed you the biggest turd on his desk) they were really up shit’s creek (even if the client “approves” your case study, does anyone really want the world to know they have problems? Does any client want to show their vulnerability to the competition? Or where they may become vulnerable again in the future? That lowly product manager might have approved your case study, but by the time it’s revealed to the CMO and ultimately, the CEO, you just got your product manager fired or put on double-secret probation). Acme was faced with an unprecedented problem in their long and distinguished history. (gasp!)Wile E. Coyote had smartened up and wasn’t falling for the Roadrunner’s old tricks anymore. Mr. Coyote figured out that there was real dynamite in those packages marked “Acme Corporation”. (yes, the target is smarter than ever, duh)So, their challenge to us was monumental: Engage Mr. Coyote in a conversation and make him believe, despite the treacherous implications of dynamite, that we empathize feel his pain. (sounds like fast food advertising, or alcohol, or just fill in the blank with a category from your client roster) The challenge was to make Mr. Coyote proud to be part of a club that blows itself up every chance it gets. (Let’s just reveal our client’s strategy to their competition, while we’re at it)


So, we conducted bookoo research on coyotes throughout North America (for bookoo dollars) guided by our proprietary planning model that we call Exactamundo/trademark. (spare us all the TM, please) Our research (which pretty much confirmed Acme’s existing research into coyotes) led us to the startling realization that coyotes really don’t like to blow themselves up. They may like the smell of explosives, and the taste of explosives, but at their core — they are tired of the lingering effect of explosives. So out of this realization we stumbled upon the completely unexpected insight that “coyotes are not as dumb as we think they are.” And we profiled our target coyote and named him “the wily coyote”. (gasp, what a clever name!)


Since Acme is outspent 4 to 1 by their competition (let’s just tell the whole world that they are cheapskates, as well as unsophisticated marketers that don’t know how to apply their own research) we had to make every dollar work like four. To do this, we called in all of our vendor and media chits and basically stiffed a bunch of freelancers with slow-pays. No big deal, they’re more desperate than we are. But, to trick the target coyotes into thinking that we aren’t actually advertising to them, we built a Facebook page devoted to these smarmy, tech-savvy Wily Coyotes. We figured if we could talk to our core, and invite others to listen in, we could grow a cult. On the Facebook page, we put up a viral video of old Roadrunner cartoons. We knew that if we could get the coyotes to laugh at themselves, then they wouldn’t mind blowing themselves up again. It would be funny. And nostalgic. And reto-kitschy. Social media drove the campaign, but we also built a video game called “Coyote Ugly” which we drove awareness through Outdoor Boards on deserted highways throughout the midwest and the Mojave desert. These boards were ridiculously cheap media buys. The boards appear below — our favorite one is the headline, “You’ll Never Catch Roadrunner, Dumb Coyote”.


At last count, while we wait for the conclusive results, we’ve pretty much re-defined the American food chain. While we knew that could happen, we didn’t expect to crack the genetic code, as well — which was also an unintended effect of the campaign. Acme same store explosive sales are up 39%, they have 2 million Facebook “Likes” and 3 million YouTube hits. Acme is no longer a client, so we’re free to do the same for your brand. Call us, we’re hungry for your business.