Using Case Studies in the EC Classroom

Kenneth C.C. Yang's picture

Using Case Studies as a Pedagogical Tool in the EC Classroom

Case studies have been a popular qualitative research method that provides researchers with “an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single instance, phenomenon, or social unit” (Merriam, 1998, p. 21). This methodology has been widely used in environmental communication (EC) research (Jarreau, Altinay, & Reynolds, 2015). Using case studies to teach environmental communication can also be an effective pedagogical technique for EC teachers. Case studies demonstrate to students how abstract EC theories and concepts can be used to solve real-life situations and conservation problems. In this blog entry, as part of the IECA Educator Fellow Program, I would like to share my experience of integrating case studies into the EC classroom.

In my class, I introduce my students to the concept of narrative advertising and demonstrate how this advertising creative strategy is beneficial to the effectiveness of plastic waste reduction campaigns. In the advertising and marketing literature, narrative advertising is defined as the conveying of “the core message by telling a [brand] story” (Lien & Chen, 2011). Consumers who are exposed to a narrative ad campaign are expected to demonstrate attitudes that are more positive, and participants express more willingness to support the advertised green cause to reduce plastic waste. To demonstrate this, I selected two green campaigns that show narrative advertising in action, and shared with the students how narrative transportation in a green campaign can better engage consumers with its cause.

The first campaign was produced in 2018 by UN Environment Program ( that uses a narrative strategy to promote the importance of reducing plastic waste (See Figure 1 below). This 2-minute video ad/public service announcement (PSA) has a catchy title, #CleanSeas Break-Up PSA: It’s not me, it’s you. The description of the video is: “Sandra realizes she has been in a toxic relationship for too long and decides it’s time for a break-up. What’s more, she has found a new love.” The end of the ad encourages consumers to take action by breaking up with plastic products and to take a pledge for environmental conscious at A sequel of this campaign ( aims to extend consumers’ interest and engagement in this very successful narrative advertising. In the sequel, Sandra shares with her family during Christmas, her post-breakup experience, while addressing challenges in her new relationships with a no-plastic world. This 2:50 video carries a similarly catchy title, “#CleanSeas Break-Up PSA: Christmas Edition ‘Home for the Holidays’.”


Figure 1. UN Environment Program, “#CleanSeas Break-Up PSA: It’s not me, it’s you” Campaign (2018)

Unlike the #CleanSeas Break-Up Campaign that blends a list of damages caused by plastic waste to the environment (such as “toxic,” “suffocating,” or “not compatible” with a green lifestyle) with a fictitious romantic relationship. The Plastic Pollution campaign by WWF International in 2018 relies solely on scientific facts and statistics such as “Plastic is Creating a 400 Year Problem,” “99% of Plastics Cause Climate Change,” and “1 Million Seabirds Die Every Year” (See Figure 2 below). This 1:20 minute ad ( does not use any highly-engaging ad narratives to tell a story about the plastic waste reduction cause. Instead, it uses fear appeals with terrifying visuals and facts such as: “We are Eating Plastic” and “We are Breathing Plastic” to encourage consumers to change their dependence on plastic products.

Using these two case examples is beneficial to demonstrate how narrative advertising can be used to create more interesting green campaigns that engage consumers by learning facts about plastic waste problems in an entertaining and engaging manner.


Figure 2. WWF International, “Plastic Pollution” Campaign (2018)

Further Reading List

Jarreau, Page B.; Altinay, Zeynep & Reynolds, Amy. (2015, October). Best practices in environmental communication: A case study of Louisiana's coastal crisis. Environmental Communication, 11(2), 143-165.

Lien, N.-H., & Chen, Y.-C. (2013). Narrative ads: The effect of argument strength and story format. Journal of Business Research, 66, 516-522.

Merriam, Sharah (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass.


About the Author: 

Kenneth C.C. Yang teaches in the Department of Communication at The University of Texas at El Paso.