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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rules for Copying Presentation Style?

In a previous post - Video and Screencast Styles for Corporate Training? - I had mentioned Common Craft as an example of a particular well-known style that seems to have struck a chord. I'm still looking for examples of other good styles that people have seen.

In the meantime, I ran across a post by Ewan McIntosh who points to a video by McKann Erickson (the big ad agency) that uses the same style as common craft. Ewan tells us -
It's a shame that one of the largest ad agencies out there, McCann Erickson, feels the need to rip-off others' work, without even a casual link out to the people they're attempting to copy. ...

Why, then, have McCann repackaged/stolen the idea and produced something that's mediocre at best, plain boring rather than plain English?
I'm wondering about this. This is obviously a rip-off of the style used by common craft. And as Ewan tells us, it's not well done. They slip into power point looking stuff along the way. The humor isn't really there. But the question this leaves me with ... if I found something that I thought was a good style to copy for the videos and screencasts that I'm thinking about, I was planning on borrowing from it. Would this be wrong?
What are the rules for copying presentation style?


George Ritacco said...

Great question Tony. As a full-time marketer and researcher, I often come across different styles that seem to be more effective than others - that I look to emulate. There has to be a careful balance however. Taking a great idea and making it better is a good thing. However, "stealing" is unnaceptable. If you're too lazy or not creative enough to make something better or start from scratch - you should always give credit to the original idea. My opinion only. Thanks for the post.

George Ritacco
VP Relations
Atlantic Link, LTD
(... eLearning 2.0 - web-based, collaborative authoring... feel free to visit:

Matt Stenson said...

In my opinion that would be like saying that writing a rock and roll song is stealing from the beatles. Styles are just that, styles. They are not the actual work. Techniques my be a different story idk.

Stephen Downes said...

Well let's not forget that Common Craft employs a style that many animators have used for years... it's not like they invented it own own it.

Anonymous said...

This example attempts to copy the style, but actually just overlays a thin veneer of the most obvious trademarks of the commoncraft style (the 'plain english' tag, the humming), while missing its most important elements.

I don't suppose you have the link for the Ewan McIntosh post? I'd like to read it.

Tony Karrer said...

Sorry about not including the link to Ewan's post originally. I've added it now.

Jason said...

In my opinion they simply copied the signature hummm at the beginning of the presentation and the simple title written on paper. Beyond that it's a 'eyes glazing' PowerPoint presentation.

I think borrowing or being influenced by style is going to happen and it's how we grow as presenters; however I don't understand how a company could go ahead and copy (borrow or be influenced) the signature CommonCraft introduction.

Were they trying to mislead the viewer into thinking it was CommonCraft?

Wayne said...
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Wayne said...

In my opinion it is unethical to steal the techniques used by Common Craft. If you were to build upon or cite the originator it would be different (and I feel more acceptable). There is a implied sense of arrogance or deceptiveness by not including the reference. How often does this occur? How many other ideas have been stolen?

Like others have stated, it appears that they utilized the most iconic bits (title, humming, paper cut-outs) but missed the precise message typically delivered in Common Craft works. I have lost respect for McCann because of this.

Michael Bromby said...

Certainly in Europe, the Intellectual Property in such designs and formats may be protected. 'Passing off' is the term most frequently used for copying the style of others, particularly in fashion and advertising. The use of humming could be construed as borrowing the good reputation of CommonCraft to benefit others (especially if it looks like CommonCraft were responsible for the product, when they are not). That said, 'paying homage' and satire are acceptable as they build upon another's work to produce something independent and different even though they may look similar - they convey different messages. Copyright is an adequate protection if written text or compilations are used without permission, but patents are only applicable to unique and registered methods or products. Trademarks can be registered, and the use of devices, logos, even the humming can be registered in combination. For interesting debates on copyright and trademarks, see the SecondLife debates regarding names, texts, images etc and the lack of 'fair use' proscribed in their terms and conditions.

Eric Wilbanks said...

A very, very wise man once said, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done there is nothing new under the sun."

Every design that any of us can possibly conceive is simply a mashup or remix of something that's been done before in some form or other. We fancy ourselves "creators" when, in fact, we are merely "creative re-arrangers." Besides, isn't it true that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?"

The problem, as I see it, is when we don't put enough effort in the re-arranging part and settle for photocopying. That's fine if you are creating a parody, but otherwise, it's questionable at best.

The upsycho said...

I can't see why copying a style should be a problem. After all, we have seen any number of Guy Kawasaki-inspired presos, Clive Shepherd inspired presos and if I see another Lessig, I think I'll scream (no offence). Heck, I've even seen one or two Karyn Romeis inspired presos!

If you decide to create a Gary Larson style cartoon and your joke isn't dark enough... fuggeddit.

If you're going for Lessig, don't suddenly submit to the urge to include a slide with a raft of bullet points or a pragraph of text.

If you're going to furnish your lounge in a minimalist style, stop buying furniture at about the point you think the room could do with "just one more chair".

When you're dressing for simple elegance, you'd be ill-advised to overdo the jewellery (said she, clanking her 14 silver bangles).

The trick is to understand what it is about a style that makes it work. If the thing you're trying to do isn't going to translate well into that style, find another one!

Anonymous said...

When people think they can reuse actual content without permission, how are you going to prevent them imitating style?

More to the point -- and I think Karyn in particular is saying this -- successfully copying a style is much harder than it looks. Just ask any Parisienne.

Style is not about the what, it's about the why.

Take poor old PowerPoint: there's nothing wrong per se with using one of the pre-baked themes -- but how many presentations have you endured that never considered changing the theme -- reducing the excessive font size, staying away from the damned bean people, using an occasional black screen, etc.?

Karl Kapp said...

Talk about rip offs. Check this out. Not really any good.

Blackboard’s Attempt at Apple-Like Ads

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Tony!

Rules for copying presentation style? I doubt it. I think what we're considering is perhaps the irrelevant.

In a recent post on eCube the question of plagiarism was discussed in relation to text and design. I think similar parameters exist here as are discussed on eCube's post. But what's relevant is what's important. And that's all according to opinion I'm afraid.

But as far as the ad in concerned, what will be relevant is how effective it is for what it is trying to sell. Forget about copying presentation style.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Bex said...

That is a great question. In the link you put to the McCann Erickson video, there IS a note below that says "Inspired by Common Craft." I think that's adequate. What's more problematic for me is the subtitle in their video, "In Plain English," which Common Craft probably ought to have trademarked.

Tony Karrer said...

This has been great input on this issue.

My take away is that it's okay to borrow a style - and likely give credit to where you are borrowing it from.

I completely agree that copying the style and pulling it off are two very different things.

And, it's funny that I'm not sure about the common craft style for corporate learning applications. It's light, breezy, humorous, but it also then feels light and breezy - and possibly not quite "deep" enough for most corporate learning applications. Of course, then you try what McCann did and fail like they did.

The Blackboard copies of Apple's ads pretty much does the same thing. At least Blackboard has some important, simple messages in their ads. We now play well with Moodle and Sakai. They don't jump into a PowerPoint presentation in the middle. But, I actually think these are closer to working.

So, the mantra is borrow well and give credit.

subquark said...
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subquark said...
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subquark said...

I agree that their "copy" was poorly executed. I also wonder at what point a technique becomes "theirs"? As stated in other responses, it is not a new approach, but certainly CommonCraft has mastered it in the current market.

I attempted to teach a simple topic and used a similar approach. Flipbook meets stop animation meets ripoff. My final results were such a poor copy that I even posted on Lee Lefever's site and gave him the respect he has worked hard to achieve.

Here is how not to do it:

Thanks for the great post!

Anonymous said...

The greatest form of flattery is when someone copy's you. I think we all agree that for specific topics the common craft style works great. For other topics it would not work at all. That is where solid instructional design comes in. Leverage yes but make it your own.

For common craft the style is the brand, and you can't just take a brand image or message and call it your own.

An ad agency should understand the value and ownership that surrounds a brand. I think this falls into the stolen category.