The 5 Explainer Videos You Should Never Do:#1: The Common Craft Rip Off

Bad videos hurt your business. Maybe worse than not having any video.

You have spent the money, AND you have a bad video. When you read this, you’ll be able to protect your company against having a bad video. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing the video equivalent of the Comic Sans font.

You’ll have the power to make a better video - even if you don’t hire us to do it. You’ll be able to avoid sinking money into things that will hurt your business.

Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap.

In new industries - like the explainer industry, often more than 90% of everything is crap. This series will explore the five obvious “no-nos.” So you can prevent that from happening to you.

The consequences of a poor video:

    • You signal to customers that you are creatively bankrupt (and repell them)
    • You might have signaled that you have no taste or bad taste.
    • You have paid and wasted money to get your message out in an ineffective manner.

Bad videos are cheap. $1-5,000. But, when people don’t buy from us and they wind up with a bad video, they come back having wasted the money they spent on a bad video.

Don’t let this happen. This is first in a series of posts that will help you not have problems with your video.

So let’s dive in to the first type of video you should never make. This one is easy: the outright theft of someone else’s work.

Video Types You Should Never Do: #1: The Common Craft Rip-Off

You’ve seen the videos before. The ones with the hand-cut paper cut-outs and the matter of fact voice explaining how something is working. Some of them are fantastic startup videos.

Here is an example from a while back for Google Docs:

It’s a great video. No whiz-bang, all understated and simple. Tells a story. Google Docs. I get it. It’s a few years old, but it holds up. You still get the gist of what Google Docs does.

Those videos are called Common Craft videos. They are an original style created by Lee and Sachi LeFever. Common Craft kicked off the industry, and created a fabulous set of videos explaining both products and educational topics (like what is copyright).

There’s nothing particularly technically complex about Common Craft’s videos. They demonstrate an application of established rules on timing, pacing, explanation and storytelling. You know, craft.

To use a rock and roll metaphor, it’s Dylan. You run the risk of being an unintentional parody when imitate the affectations of Dylan without having the underlying lyrical substance. His “sand and glue” voice without lyrics wouldn’t have gotten out of the Gaslight, and we’d never have heard of him.

About once a month, someone asks for a “Common Craft” type video. The sometimes even have quotes in hand from other people willing to produce that type of video. We always encourage them to use an original idea. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they say “such-and-such company” is willing to do it for this price.

Why You Shouldn’t Make An Imitation Common Craft:

Do you want to be identified as a thief?

That is simple theft of another producer’s ideas. Anyone that would make a video like that is dishonest at best and committing copyright violations fraud at worst. Sewing confusion that Common Craft has endorsed this startup is a big minefield. They've taken care to only be with first class companies. Customers could be led to think that Lee and Sachi endorsed a company that they knew nothing about. While they don’t appear to be litigious sort, a too-close imitation could cross the line and force them into responding.

We respect and admire what Lee and Sachi are doing with Common Craft. We won’t use their original style in any video as we draw more lines to create an identifiable style.

Simplifilm has our own ideas. Ours is simple, seamless style, with high quality animations and an insistence that we show the product in every piece. We focus on conversions and trial users, not simple explanations because we believe in what David Ogilvy said: If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.

If you are willing to steal from CommonCraft in a video that represents your company, you signal low standards. You’re signaling that your company is trying to fit into a box, not lead the field.

You don’t steal code, would you? You don’t view source and pull in big chunks of CSS.

Don’t steal work from others, don’t hire video producers that would even consider that.  That will wreck your company, I've been there, I know.  Be original, it's way safer.

Yes, you can bring in references and metaphors. Yes, you can build on and enhance ideas from others (i.e. a simple video explaining a product), but when you just ape an established style, you’re going to be the Dave Clark Five in a Beatles world.

How good can your company or product be when your video is a chintzy copy of someone else’s ideas? The people that matter will figure it out.

The customers you drool over- the ones with taste- can spot the difference between a the genuine article and the knock off.

Using a low cost imitation of someone else’s work will cancer your innovation, culture and company. It’s making a public statement declaring that you are low end. It’s saying that “it’s OK to rip someone else off.” It’s also saying that you aren’t smart enough to come up with your own way of thinking about things.

When you want a Common Craft, hire Common Craft. Don’t hire someone to steal from Common Craft on your behalf. (When you want something more conversion/response oriented, hire us.)