Making a Federal Case (Study)

I hope I’m not in breach of confidentiality, but our agency recently judged the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ O’Toole Awards. There were eight of us from GdB who participated and we were all struck by the strikingly similar fashion in which the entries were packaged.

Literally every other entry took the form of a new-biz case study video. You know, those marketing 2.whatever, jargon-laced narratives that describe in painstaking detail the piercing consumer insight that enabled Brand X to engage its customers in some virtual reality that was linked to Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites, ultimately leading to 9 gazillion YouTube hits, an increase in sales of 394 percent and a Mideast peace settlement.

Now, I will say, many of these videos were expertly crafted. I think Peter Coyote narrated a couple of them. And the groovy, techno tracks definitely made me think these people were “with it.”

The first entry that followed this template was tedious. I mean, we weren’t judging the Effie Awards here. But when the second, third and fourth entries all followed suit, the cliché became so ripe, I felt like I was watching an SNL skit.

Sure, strategy and results are important, but we’re all savvy marketers here. Just show me your idea and I’ll render an opinion if I think it’s any good or not. You can’t explain greatness out of mediocrity.

Some of these entries weren’t even what most people would classify as “creative.” They were operational tactics, more akin to customer service than communication. (Who knows, maybe the creator of the “How’s my driving?” bumper sticker won a gold Lion and I just don’t know it.) And an awful lot of it (and in some cases, I do mean awful) was what most would call public relations. Not knocking it, just saying there’s a different show for that.

The other funny thing about these videos is they give you the impression that everyone not living in a cave has seen and participated in these campaigns. But a quick show of hands usually reveals this is hardly the case.

In fairness, some of these entries were quite elaborate with many moving parts and, therefore, required explanation. But not to the lengths most of them went. Even that brilliant Volkswagen “Fun Theory” keyboard staircase installation went on and on, first explaining the human psychology of fun. Whoa.

Full disclosure: It’s not like we don’t make case study videos at our shop featuring our latest 360-degree, crowd-sourced, fully digitized shiny thing. We just don’t enter them in awards shows. Other than the Effies, that is. But, given what we witnessed, maybe we should.

So why all the sudden advertising campaigns as novellas? Is our industry overcompensating for something? Maybe. Maybe we’ve been so beaten down by the “advertising is dead” zealots that we’ve grown insecure in the belief that one great ad can accomplish great things (like the Betty White Snickers TV spot, which we also judged — thank God).

A lot of us came away from our judging experience feeling that the art is being sucked out of the art of communication. And that gadgets and gizmos are becoming more valued than content. Metrics are becoming more important than meaning.

The good news: When a big, simple, elegant and expertly crafted idea like the Snickers one came along, it really, really stood out. Which made judging really, really easy.

Not to make a federal case out of it or anything.

Doug deGrood is a co-partner of GdB. He can be reached at