The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Case Study Edition

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I’m currently taking a public relations case study course in which every class we discuss and examine some of PR’s best and worst moments. Topics have ranged from consumer products and health communication, to social marketing campaigns and community relation cases. Since starting this course, I have greatly developed my sense of what makes a good versus bad case study. Below I will walk you through several well-known case studies and examine where companies went wrong and where they succeeded.

The Good: Year in Space; Communicating NASA’s Historic One-Year Mission from Space to Ground.

With the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, most people thought that was the last for NASA. However, in 2015, NASA sent astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniennko into space for a whole year. The objectives of this campaign included increasing the number of American astronaut applications received for next class of explorers by 50 percent, as well as increasing traffic to the mission webpage by 250,000 page views. These, as well as the two additional objectives that NASA created, were strong because they were measurable.

The campaign itself was spread out over the course of a year. During that time, NASA worked to inform and educate the general community about their year in space campaign. They were able to garner lots of social media coverage, from former President Obama giving Scott Kelly a shoutout during the State of the Union address, to partnering with 20th Century Fox Entertainment and The Martian author on the Oscar-nominated film. In addition, NASA worked with TIME magazine to help launch “STEM on Station,” a website with the space station-related resources and opportunities for educators and students.

When it came time to evaluate the success of this campaign, NASA exceeded all of their objectives. For example, there was a 200 percent increase in astronaut applications following the “Year in Space” mission. NASA gained 1,268,900 followers on Instagram and was named one of the best places to work in the Federal Government for the fourth year in a row. This case study exhibited quality research beforehand to better understand the public’s misunderstanding of NASA, measurable objectives, multiple avenues to promote the mission and ideal timing. All of these aspects resulted in a successful campaign that has since changed the public’s perception of NASA and has put them back on the map as a visible and powerful federal agency.

The Bad: The Search for #TheNextMr.Clean.

Mr. Clean made his mainstream debut in 1959. However by 2016, Proctor and Gamble realized that the relevance and image of Mr. Clean was not resonating well with younger consumers. In an attempt to change this perception, Mr. Clean went under a massive rebrand.

Over the course of a year, they launched the search for #theNextMrClean. They had auditions for regular people to become the next Mr. Clean. In addition, they partnered with Hollywood stars including Mario Lopez, Sean Lowe, Kellan Lutz and Andy Cohen. They engaged with YouTube sensations, social media tastemakers and NFL superstars. They also updated the classic Mr. Clean jingle to appeal to a younger demographic. The big reveal came during the LI Superbowl where P&G announced the new Mr. Clean, Georgia native, Mike Jackson. He was provided with a lifetime supply of Magic Erasers and starred in a limited edition calendar. This campaign did receive organized media coverage and exceeded its objectives however, there were many negative outcomes of this case.

For example, this campaign had no sustainability; it was a classic 15 seconds of fame situation for Mr. Clean. While there was a lot of hype during #theNextMrClean search, once it was over, Mike Jackson went back to his life and no one ever heard from him again. P&G also did not perform enough research, but instead went with their “gut reactions” about how millennial viewed Mr. Clean. This resulted with a poorly crafted campaign that misaligned with the P&G plan of a rebrand. There was also low social media interaction from the general public. From low social media posts to unknown audition submissions, the search for #theNextMrClean fell short of its expectations.

The Ugly: Wonderful Pistachios Educates Hispanics on Healthy Snacking.

Last year, The Wonderful Company recognized that although they led the snack nut category as the No. 1 selling snack nut brand, they weren’t targeting Hispanic consumers enough. The brand only had an 11 percent share of Latino snack purchases. Thus this prompted them to launch a campaign that would enable them to inform, educate and persuade Hispanic consumers to make pistachios by The Wonderful Company their brand of choice.

The research they gathered from Mintel was decent, but not detailed enough. They knew awareness about Wonderful Pistachios was low among their audience, but they didn’t understand why. Yet they continued with their execution and launched two different campaigns. The first was the Healthy Chica campaign in which they partnered with TV personality and motivational speaker, Laura Posada, who served as the brand’s first Hispanic health ambassador. She executed one media tour and two satellite media tours in addition to securing bylines on numerous health related articles. The second campaign revolved around former Mexican soccer player, Jared Borgetti. His role was to promote the importance of smart snacking. He executed three retail activations in the U.S., and secured media attendance at these activations from broadcast and print outlets.

Although this campaign may sound good on paper, the results did not show that. They only achieved one of their objectives — mainly because it was the only one that was measurable. Wonderful Pistachios knew what they wanted to accomplish, but not how to execute it effectively. They should have broken down their target audience into segments and then have launched strategies and tactics for each segment. This would have allowed them to craft key messages for each segment that would have resonated with them more, and thus build brand loyalty. They also should have chosen spokespeople with more influence on the Hispanic community such as Sascha Fitness, a nutrition and fitness public figure or Rafael Marquez, a more famous and relevant Mexican soccer player. Lastly, since this campaign ended, there has been no timeline released and no posts seen after October 2016.


Throughout this post, I walked you through three noteworthy examples of what makes a good, bad and ugly case study. Below I have laid out the five most important things to assess when judging a case study.

  1. Quantitative and qualitative research methods. Determine why a company should or shouldn’t conduct a particular PR campaign at a particular time.
  2. Audience research. Which public is most important to a company?
  3. Objectives. Analyze the distribution of program materials as well as the specific intended effects of PR programs on their audiences. Ask yourself, are these measurable objectives?
  4. Key messages. What needs to be communicated in order to change behavior? The theme must be catchy, memorable and concise because it must tie the campaign together.
  5. Evaluation. ongoing monitoring and final assessment. Look back at the objectives and determine whether they were or were not achieved and why that occurred.

By evaluating a case study on these five aspects, you’ll be able to garner a better sense of how good or bad the case actually was. Remember, cases may sound good when on paper, but once you start to dig into them, the results may surprise you.

Emma Ingram is a junior studying public relations and strategic communication at American University in Washington, D.C. This year she is serving as the president of her school’s PRSSA Chapter. She was previously the Chapter’s vice president. She also serves on the 2017–2018 Industry News and Current Events Subcommittee for PRSSA National. Follow her on Twitter @emmaaingramm or connect with her on Linkedin.

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