An Homage or Just a Rip-Off?

Somebody sent me this Citizens Bank video (found on this page on their site):

Savvy readers will recognize this style as quite similar to Common Craft’s highly successful and excellent explanation videos (here’s their latest). Citizens Bank actually credits Common Craft with a link to YouTube at the bottom of the aforementioned page:

Inspired by Common Craft and their RSS feed video.

There’s no credit given on Citizens Bank’s YouTube page, or in the video itself.

Lee and Sachi are so nice, I’m sure they’d be pleased to be imitated (and I’m guessing that Citizens Bank isn’t the first copycat). And I’ve got to say, the Citizens Bank video is quite good. It uses too much cheesy clip art and lacks the secret sauce of Common Craft, but does a really good job of explaining how RRSPs work.

So is this a rip-off or an homage? Should I rise in defense of my friends Lee and Sachi? Or have they just invented a new kind of video, and there’s no point in raging against a tide of imitation? A good analogy is the screencast. I’m sure the second guy who created a screencast was emulating the first, but did he have a right to? Or, on a more personal (and much smaller) scale, sooner or later somebody’s going to copy our comic or love note pitches to bloggers.

In truth, I going with “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” on this one. It’s the price you pay for being original. Plus, I might want to copy their technique some day.


  1. I vote “homage” as well.

    And not nearly as cleverly done as Lee and Sachi. Not even close.

    But good on them for being savvy enough to use it and get some blogtalk. Nice to see someone thinking outside the box.

  2. Speaking of similarities; I could not help but notice the icons in each firefox tab I had open this afternoon:

  3. Thanks Darren. These are questions we’ve been asking too. 🙂 We *are* flattered and we have seen other imitations. For now, if we have been inspirational, we do love to see attribution/link to Common Craft.

    The video linked below is one that is an obvious imitation, but offers no link or attribution whatsoever, that we’ve seen.

    Our bet is that Commonwealth Credit Union (what’s the deal with Canadian banks/Credit unions and our videos anyway?) paid to have it done and the producers didn’t tell them about their inspiration.

  4. It’s a good problem to have, when your ideas and execution are just so damn good that you’re inundated with copycats.

    If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that us Common Craft fans are sniffing out the imitators and linking back to Lee and Sachi where credit is due, even if their imitators are not.

    As much as I hate to see the Common Craft show model get ripped off, I too am in the “sincerest form of flattery” camp, because I fully intend to poach all of YOUR best ideas, DB. Of course, I’ll be sure and give you credit when I do 🙂

  5. It seems to me that while some are being nice and flattering with a link-back, others are just competition. Your friends started a mini-trend, it catches on, other people copy their work, and I don’t see how such an idea can be locked down. So they have to be savvy enough to market themselves as the trend-setters, the most experienced in the genre, the best at it, etc. to reap the reward of their idea. Among their potential clients, they have to get the word out that doing an explanation video with anyone else but them will not be as successful.

  6. Just like any creative work, it is to be expected that it will inspire others to create similar products, like the idea of a screencast or a method of painting. There is a fine line between being inspired by and copying.

    To inspire suggests that the person has taken something and added a new spin on and evolved on the idea. This appears to just be taking the creativity of the Commoncraft concept and utilizing it in the same manner as it was originally. I would consider this just copying. The only way this could be considered appropriate would be if it was parodying the videos, which it isn’t.

    I believe that’s a pretty standard notion for creative ideas in music, art etc. Would another artist who threw splashes of paint and cigarette ashes onto a giant canvas on the floor be inspired by or copying Jackson Pollock?

  7. Homage for sure! While Citizens Bank doesn’t pretend to have a monopoly on new ideas (and deeply admires those like Common Craft who hit it out of the park with true creativity), we do plan to ‘put back’ more originality into the public domain than we re-mix…..don’t believe me….keep tabs on by registering your name, check out YouTube (search: Citizens Bank of Canada) and open an Ultimate Savings account online at to be first in line to get your very own Digital ************ (sorry can’t give away all the company secrets just yet…..suffice to say you’ll want this radical improvement to on-line banking!)… that’s innovation in an industry that traditionally defines innovation as ~drum roll~ changing the denominator in mortgage calculations from 25 to 40 year amortizations or opening branches (who wants to pay for them anyways?) on a Saturday!

    posted from the inside…Jason – CEO of

    PS. another genre I’d love to adapt (with attribution!) for Citizens’ next financial literacy video is that of comedian Dmitri Martin….hilarious, check him out on You Tube (search “Dmitri Martin and flip chart”)

  8. Andrea: I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about–can you elaborate?

    Lee: I dropped that nice woman at the Edmonton credit union an email, politely suggesting that she ought to give a little link back love. Besides, she seems keen to get email:

    That video and her homage video are actually quite good, too. It’s a testimony to your guys’ format that it’s hard to screw up.

    Alexa: I’d compare this more to a technique or process. Another good analogy might be the use of split-screen in cinema. The first time I saw it was in the movie Woodstock, though I’m sure it predates that film. Lots of films use it–are they all just copying the original, and is that bad?

    Jason: Thanks for dropping by, and, uh, pitching your next campaign. I don’t think anybody was accusing Citizens Bank of not innovating. I was just musing on the idea of homage vs. copying, and how that played out in the social media sphere.

  9. This reminds me of “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (Thomas Khun) in which he argues that we attribute scientific breakthroughs to a particular individual, when in fact that individual was her/himself a product of her ethos and the cumulative ideas up to that point.

    With reference to CommonCraft — I remember as a kid in sunday school 35 years ago seeing little flannel characters being placed on cloth, then rearranged to tell a story.

    Is CommonCraft paying homage to them? or Copying?

    Whatever – if it’s a good idea, it’s going to be emulated. It’s simply a sign of a good idea.

  10. ps – that’s not to diminish the CommonCraft ‘canon’ – it’s delightful, and I’ve referenced it countless times – but all our ideas and work are in a historical setting and perhaps not as ‘uniquely ours’ as we like to believe.

  11. To clarify my statements above…there is at least one example of where Lee is being totally ripped off, right down to using a similar (misspelled) url. That’s crossing the line, no question.

    And Jason, while you did link to one of their Youtube videos on the page for your promotion, you could certainly do more in terms of providing more comprehensive attribution. A link to their site would do nicely- from both your site and your Youtube video.

  12. Whenever I had to explain RSS to someone, I always sent them the link to the YouTube video from Common Craft which is why I ended up posting the video link on our site. So it was a natural when we wanted to produce a video to explain RSPs that we were inspired by their work. I actually prefer their more illustrative work that they are doing now. (FYI, I’m the web marketing manager at Citizens Bank.)

    Coincidentally on the weekend I was watching the TV show, Sunday Morning and they had a segment (regular it appears) called The Fast Draw. Its two guys that take a news story and create quick drawings similar to but different to what Lee is doing. They had a related show last year called The Quick Draw. This is the video they did about the Super Bowl posted on YouTube. I think it’s well done.

    We’re still experimenting with new media and I guarantee we’re going to stumble sometimes especially when it’s real trial and error for all to see. But that has to be ok so we’ll keep taking risks.

    I hope to meet some of you on Saturday at Northern Voice

  13. I have to play devil’s advocate here. I have watched a few commoncraft videos, and they are great, no arguing. Certainly works of art, and I wish them much success. But the idea of telling a story through illustration, even paper cutouts, is not a new one. I’ve seen many music videos (Bright Eyes had one, I think for “Bowl of Oranges”, I recall an Austin, TX based band called Zykos that did something similar, and there was the White Stripes video with legos that was at least similar conceptually).

    The only thing that Commoncraft has done that is unique is applying this technique to a business video, but if you dig deep enough on Youtube you will surely find something earlier. Nothing is original.

    Those who choose to be a bit too derivative may suffer the wrath of the loyalists who are aware of who first pioneered the technique. But we are naive to think that we can own something as elementary and deeply rooted in history as storytelling, using visuals.

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