This Knifemaker Urges People to Keep Their Hands ‘Sharp’ by Making Stuff

Case Knives' message is right on point

Never a dull moment. WR Case & Sons

Knifemaker WR Case & Sons seeks to cut through the clutter by focusing on hands using blades to create, repair and refurbish, rather than obsessing over the shiny tools themselves.

Our hands, we’re told, “have become all thumbs.” Thanks to technology, we’ve lost the ability to build bookcases, fix cars and julienne potatoes. We must remind ourselves that “hands were made to make things,” and partake in crafts and challenges said appendages “can sink their fingers into.” After all, who wants to live in a world where “the like button somehow becomes the most famous hand in the world?”

Of course, the 129-year-old company’s wares—cutlery, pocket knives, sporting blades and such—are on display, but they play a supporting role to the hands that wield them in various artistic, culinary and DIY endeavors. That approach fuels compelling slice-of-life scenarios in this two-minute, documentary-style film, shot in Case’s hometown of Bradford, Pa.:

Well, that certainly carves out a niche for the brand. Heh.

Developed by McGarrah Jessee, the work taps into the maker mindset of current and prospective Case customers. “These handymen and women take pride in being able to do things with their hands,” agency strategy director Kristin Axelson tells Adweek. “And even though they rely on the digital age and its perks like the rest of us, they aren’t excited about a world where we become so automated that we lose sight of what hands can do.”

Next, a series of 15-second videos running in digital media make salient points on the brand proposition:

Most of the campaign’s hands (along with faces, torsos, etc.) belong to folks living in Bradford, including “bakers, shop owners, mechanics, musicians people who know what hands are for,” says McGarrah Jessee creative director Derek Bishop. During a visit to Case’s factory this summer, “We were blown away by what we saw: the complex manufacturing process, the number of steps that went into making each knife, and most importantly, the hard work that so many women and men poured into each knife. So we said, ‘This is what the campaign is talking about, right here. How do we not film with these hands? Let’s tell everyone outside of Bradford that their hands are just as capable.’”

One pivotal scene in the centerpiece spot came about fortuitously on the last day of location filming at a mechanic’s shop when a friend of the owner stopped by.

“He was in his late 70s, and he brought a small box full of Case knives he’d used over the decades,” Bishop recalls. “It was really inspiring to hold them and imagine the thousands of daily tasks he completed with each one. It made you wonder where each scratch, ding and mark came from. So we [had to] use him—holding his well-worn Case knife—as our final shot.”

Other campaign elements include cheeky Instagram palm readings by carpenters, mechanics and farmers:

Additionally, these banner ads test your hands’ IQ. (Chisel or gouge? One slip, and it’s an owie either way!)

Finally, in a sly nod to modern times, users can take the IQ quiz on Alexa and other hands-free devices.

“Our goal (with the smart speakers) was to orchestrate a moment that forced the listener to stop and believe in the truth of the creative message, based on their own behavior,” says agency media director Allie Robino. “What better time to capture a person’s attention than during a moment that demonstrates the exact shift in behavior the campaign was built around?”


Client: Case Knives
Agency: McGarrah Jessee

Creative Directors: Derek Bishop, Tim Cole
ECD: James Mikus
Art Director: Andrew Knight
Copywriter: Patrick Girts
Designer: Sam O’Brien
Strategy Director: Kristin Axelson
Strategists: Michelle Watson, Nick Spinner
Group Account Director: Brett Eaton
Account Director: Avery Graham
Account Executive: Claire Brown
Engagement Planning: Allie Robino, Charli Sowrey, Andrew McCluskey, Mercer Proctor

Production Company: Rabbit Foot
Director: Jeff Bednarz
EP: Meredith Roach
Producers: Sam Chortek, Lauren Alvarez
Editors: Gavin McGlynn, Alex Heisterkamp
Photographer: Ian Kasnoff

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.