Academic journal article Journal of Advertising Education

Rehearsing Campaign Planning at the Start of the Capstone Course: The Inverted Case Study Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Advertising Education

Rehearsing Campaign Planning at the Start of the Capstone Course: The Inverted Case Study Approach

Article excerpt


The campaign course is an essential component of virtually every marketing communication curriculum, frequently as a capstone. Most often, it is taught as a practicum exercise. The class (or teams within the class) is given a client and a problem for which the students spend the semester creating a campaign. An alternative to this is the case study approach, in which students are guided through an examination of the development of one or more real-world campaigns. Because these two approaches have advantages and disadvantages that are mutually complementary, I employ both a semester-long campaign creation project and a case study activity. The latter includes a twist intended to enhance understanding of the process needed in tackling the campaign creation.

The Course Challenges

Day one of the campaigns course unleashes a whirlwind of eagerness. Or so it first seems. Announcement of the client and task at hand sparks creative juices for many students. The reality, however, of first building a campaign-planning foundation brakes the students' fast-forward thinking. Four to five weeks devoted to constructing a situation analysis through secondary and primary research looms as an eternity. To them, it impedes their eagerness to create brilliant concepts.

The challenge for the instructor across these early weeks is to sustain students' eagerness and expand their awareness of campaign planning as a professional reality and an awareness of the growing ocean of options for messages and media. For this, the case study approach is a war horse of utility.

The Case Study Concept

Virtually from its 1908 founding, the Harvard Business School faculty distinguished themselves as resourceful, pragmatic and forward thinking in their support of the case approach. From the 1920s forward, they resolutely guided the development and refinement of the case method. Their vision of it, as the model of active learning that leads to informed decision making, endures (McEwen, 1994).

A hallmark of the case approach is that it requires students to wrestle with a combination of facts, sometimes conflicting, and unknown factors as they work toward a holistic grasp of the situation. For most students, it is the ultimate critical thinking quest.

A range of benefits of the case approach for students is extensively documented. Lunsford (1990) notes that "...students learn how to find meaning in unstructured problem settings, formulate and assess potential solutions, tolerate limited information, and learn from experience" (p. 63). Beyond the most frequently touted benefits of the case approach is the under-appreciated benefit of unattainable facts - a reality in students' fast-approaching professional lives. These are, quite frequently, the sional lives. These are, quite frequently, the facts companies chose not to disclose - the holes that acquaint students with the reality of incomplete information. As Lunsford (1990) observes: "Cases place the student in the murky world of vague problems and inadequate information from which they are asked to emerge with a solution" (p. 63).

Campaigns Course: Case Study Component

Variations of the case study approach enrich many of the core courses offered across the strategic communication spectrum. Their utility is basic: cases propel students into the workaday world where communications professionals respond to a client's needs with a set of decisions. Cases usually provide students with a tightly focused snapshot of the essentials, giving them glimpses into the origin of the need, the pertinent elements of planning, execution of the plans and commentary upon the impact.

Faculty using the case approach echo the view of Bonoma & Kosnik (1990) who value the power of experiential learning, inherent in the case method, over the traditional lecture approach. That value has increased with the interactive exposure of 21st century students who may immerse themselves daily in both electronic games and a battery of social media options. …

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