Have Your Own Style (What Happens When We Were Asked To Make a Common Craft Video)

I pitch every day.

Feast or famine, I make sure that at least 25 people a day see our work. We’re booked into December now, and I’ll do my job every. Single. Day.

Sometimes, more. Recently, I pitched Zopim, the instant messaging client. I wanted to see if they had a video.

They had a “common craft” style video that they had produced. Their video is a big problem.

For those that don’t know, CommonCraft is a small Seattle company that makes “explanation” videos for technology companies to explain what they have. Twitter was their first, big smash, and they’ve done Dropbox and other first tier valley clients since. The work that they’ve done has really explained things. They specialize in 3 minute videos that educate people about a product.

We specialize in one minute videos that do the same thing—but we ask for a response, an action. We make direct response videos. Common Craft is commissioned to make videos that explain big, novel products.

Common Craft DropBox Video:

Common Craft Wikipedia Video:

They have their niche and nobody good would ever copy their style. Common Craft should be the only people that make a cut-out-videos-that-explain software or web services. Anything else is an echo. My friend Scott Ginsberg says there are no cover bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you’re not paying Common Craft, don’t rip them off.

I’ve used 3 “instant message on your site” clients. Zopim is the best. They have a kick-ass, rockstar product. They may miss a couple technical details, but just in terms of sheer usability, Zopim is doing the best work out there. They thought about what would help people sell stuff on their websites. They give a basic analytics package with what they do. I like—and unless they get mad at me here and block me—I’ll use them when we use an IM client.

The video they did is bad. I’m not saying that just because I didn’t get the commission. (I’m sorry that I didn’t!) I’m  saying that because it rips off someone else’s creative. And, it’s clear instantly to anyone that that’s not a Common Craft video. It’s not as well written or as carefully wrought. It seems a little “off.” Because it’s not an original work, it’s an echo.

The agency that did that should have taken the time to explain what else could be done.  We’ve been asked before to make a Common Craft style video. This is what we came up with:

Our  video got a few similar elements: “generic” people changing scenes, clothing and being used, that way, to demonstrate what the story is like. It’s OK to use references, but you have to make your own way.

If a client asked, we’d say no. It’d be an admission of creative bankruptcy to try to mimic the very clear, original style that CommonCraft uses.They have done what they do, and I’m even guessing that we could probably get into legal trouble for using cutouts to explain stuff.

Beyond that, for a direct response product, I’m not sure a 3 minute video is even the best way to go. People are impatient.

Zopim—who has the chat widget that you see here—got some bad advice. Make a good, original video. If you want Common Craft, hire them. If you want us, hire us. But don’t hire Common Craft to make a Simplifilm, or vice versa.

Chris Johnson - co Founder, Simplifilm
Chris Johnson - co Founder, Simplifilm
Chris Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of Simplifilm, a motion graphics and trailer studio for bestselling authors, start ups, and Fortune 500 companies. He's a tireless entrepreneur and salesman who has tested his skills at everything from political fundraising, web development and real estate.
Since founding Simplifilm in 2010, he's become a paid advisor to leaders in many fields including New York Times bestselling authors and entrepreneurs and worked with the likes of Brad Feld, Ryan Holiday, Robert Greene, and many others.

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