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It’s Easy to Knock Case Studies; But They’re a Symptom of our Attention-Obsessed Creative Culture


Many jurors roll their eyes when presented with another hyperbolic case study, but The Local Collective’s Kaitlin Doherty argues that the real issue is ambiguity around what qualifies as a creative success story

It’s Easy to Knock Case Studies; But They’re a Symptom of our Attention-Obsessed Creative Culture

Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s recently-released whodunnit sequel to Knives Out, is an awesome film. Critics have lapped up the briskly-moving plot which kept us all guessing, and it seems like global audiences agree. 

At least, that’s the impression you’d get reading through figures released by Netflix themselves. According to the streaming giant, 82.1 million hours were dedicated to watching Glass Onion across its opening weekend. Now, according to some outlets, the film has already become the third most-watched of all time on the platform. 

Those numbers paint a picture of mind-boggling success. It’s hard to conceptualise 82.1 million hours. That’s 3,420,833 days. It’s 9,372 years. The idea of nine millennia of human time being dedicated to watching a movie is a preposterous concept, but it’s how these numbers invite us to think about the success of any given film. 

Listing through a sensational-sounding slew of numbers like that, my mind can’t help but turn to case studies. Those carefully-crafted snapshots of success which often can’t help but bamboozle us with stratospheric statistics that beg the question: What does a great ad even look like?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to simply complain about case studies. In fact, I know I use them constantly to break down and explain The Local Collective’s work (so much so that we recently released our own spoof case study, which was intended as part-satire and part-celebration of their craft). 

It’s just that, if you spend enough time thinking about case studies, you tend to end up asking some pretty searching questions about our creative culture and how we decide what ‘success’ looks like. For example, is ten million impressions… good? Should we laud a TikTok which appeared on countless For You feeds through ‘earned media’? Can it really be that eyeballs are as important a metric as dollars?

Ultimately, case studies are problematic because they’re not systematic. Their great advantage is that they allow a creative team to define success on their own terms, but their great disadvantage is that those terms are infinitely subjective. 

If you wanted to make an argument for case studies, it would probably go something like this: We’re an innately romantic industry in love with ideas, and we need to find ways to show how certain ideas caught fire. At the same time, the ever-increasing number of channels and platforms means that it’s rarely possible to find a linear, universally-agreed way of demonstrating success. And, to avoid getting utterly lost within this grey area, a case study might just be the least-worst storytelling device we have. 

On top of that, it’s important to say that some case study films are genuinely undeniable. I know I’ve been in jury rooms where nobody has been able to argue against the results shown by a case study. When there’s meat on the bones, case studies perform their function perfectly. 

But there’s a problem, too. Case studies’ unfortunate reputation is one of exaggeration and distortion - an overly-eager invite to a world where impressions are gold dust. And a case study which celebrates work inaccurately is disrespectful and unethical to the amazing ideas that are out there. There’s more than one occasion on which an editor has told me about fake tweets which have been written in order to visually showcase a campaign’s success…

And that brings us back to Glass Onion and the multi-layered question of how to define creative success. It’s not that advertising has become obsessed with grabbing people’s attention at the expense of other metrics - our entire culture has. 

Of all the possible ways Netflix could have chosen to publicly measure the success of their latest flagship blockbuster, they went with hours watched. It implies a belief on behalf of the streaming platform - not unreasonably - that in 2023 the ability to maintain our attention for a sustained period of time is the most impressive quality a piece of creative work can possess. 

That’s not isolated to the film industry. In the world of media, attention trumps all and advertising is no exception to that. It’s an innately woolly metric which is hard to pin down and explain without a dedicated piece of content breaking down precisely why and how a campaign was so successful. Case studies aren’t the problem - they’re a symptom of our attention-obsessed culture.

If anything, I’m thankful for case studies which give context to work that’s great and which delivered amazing results. I’m a romantic creative - of course I believe in putting ideas on a pedestal and celebrating them. 

Ultimately, the best things about creativity can also be the most challenging. For example: It’s messy. That’s why setting parameters for success is so subjective, and it’s also why case studies have become the de-facto way to tell the story of that success as defined by creators themselves. 

So the next time you encounter a case study which comes across as ingenuine or misleading, by all means call it out. But let’s make sure that, when we come across a great case study which effectively tells the story of wonderful work, we give credit where it’s due. After all, the next time you win an award, it might just be a case study which swung the decision for you. 

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Genres: People

The Local Collective, Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:01:12 GMT