The 10 Commandments of Award Show Case Study Videos

Advertising award shows are ridiculous. We all know it. But most agencies and brands are going to play the game no matter what, so they might as well learn how to play the game well.

And the case study video is a key component of any award show entry. Here are 10 things to remember as you’re making your videos and dreaming of that gold-plated, life-affirming hunk of professional validation.

1. Thou shall be simple.

Dirt simple. So that anybody inside or outside of the industry — whether English is their first language or not — will understand what you did. You need to communicate a clear idea, a compelling strategy, and an interesting execution.

No, it may not capture all the details and nuances of the project or the blood, sweat and tears you poured into the campaign, but you have to let go of all that and tell the simplest version of your story.

2. Thou shall be brief.

Sixty seconds is dreamy. Ninety seconds is OK. Two minutes is the absolutely longest you should go.

Pro tip: try and do the whole thing in short supers or title cards instead of a voice over. It’ll force you to tighten the language you use to tell your story (even if you ultimately decide to use a VO.)

3. Thou shall give the elevator pitch in the first 10 seconds.

Judges will watch hundreds — maybe thousands — of videos during a competition. They don’t have time for treasure hunts. Grab your audience right out of the gate. Make it clear what you did in the first ten seconds. 
 Lots of videos get turned off before they’ve played all the way through. Many judges won’t watch past the first 30 seconds if it’s not clear what you did.

4. Thou shall remember thy holy trinity: problem, solution, results.

What problem were you trying to solve? What was your strategy, insight, and solution — i.e., what did you make/do? What were the results?

P.S. If you didn’t solve the problem, stop making the case the study, right now. You’re not going to win and you’re wasting your money.

5. Thou shall know thy category.

You’re making this video for a specific show with specific categories. It’s in your best interest to know the category you’re entering, look at the judging criteria for that category, and tailor your story to that category.

6. Thou shalt not brag.

Look at your case study script. Find the following words: incredible, amazing, impressive, unheard of, unprecedented, astounding, wonderful, extraordinary, stunning, outstanding, breathtaking. Now scratch them out. 
Just the facts, ma’am. Report what you did. Let the judges evaluate whether or not it was amazing. (Pro tip: you probably didn’t “start a movement.”)

And remember that not everything is a Super Bowl spot. You don’t have to get 100 million views. If you have a smaller program that was innovative and effective for the budget, just be straight up about the real results.

7. Thou shall let the work shine through.

You remember the work, right? Yes, case studies have become their own thing, but the best ones put the actual work at the center. 
 If your case study involves a special shoot just for the case study or is mainly motion graphics created to tell the case story — if the advertising work itself is just a small portion of your video — you need to re-think the balance.

8. Thou shall go easy on the case video clichés.

It would be nice to say, “avoid the motion graphics tweet storm” or “nuke the news coverage montage” but sometimes these elements are unavoidable. Be judicious. Know that a judge is going to see a million of them.

Oh, and if you’re dialing up some sort of tangential charity angle just to tug heartstrings and make your shitty ad stunt more “culturally relevant,” you really should be kicked in the nards.

9. Thou shall get an outsider’s POV.

If you’ve worked on the campaign, you’re probably too close to it to see it with the fresh eyes needed to make a good case study. Get an outsider’s POV to help you focus your story and cut out all the stuff you don’t need.

10. Thou shall make it fun.

Again, remember that judges sit in a dark room and watch hundreds of these for ten or more hours a day. They want to be entertained. They want to feel something. Make these things fun. Use decent music. They don’t have to be overly slick, but make something that people will enjoy watching.

About the Author

John Kovacevich is a writer and creative director based in San Francisco. He ran the award show program at Goodby Silverstein & Partners for a few years and has made, approximately, one zillion case study videos. He also has some suggestions on how to fix Cannes Lions, but he’s not holding his breath.

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