We talk a lot on Death to the Corporate Video about the importance of starting any video advertising project with a strategy. That strategy step works out your key messaging, target audience, video uses, and more. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a disappointing trend in B2B video marketing emerging. Brands are skipping doing their own strategy in favor of copying a competitor.

To be clear, we encourage B2B brands to do a competitive analysis as part of a wider strategy project. However, the purpose of the competitive analysis is to determine what not to do and how to stand out. The purpose is certainly not to say, “Hey, I love this spot Competitor A made. Let’s make our own version of it!”

On this episode, Guy and Hope discuss the problem with copying your competitor’s creative, and what you should do instead

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode transcript

Hope Morley: If you assume that what your competitor is doing is what you should be doing.

Then you’re also just making an assumption that you’re not actually different. 

Hope Morley: Hello, and welcome to Death to the Corporate Video, a podcast with tools and advice for how to make B2B videos your prospects actually want to watch. I’m Hope Morley.

Guy Bauer: I’m Guy Bauer. 

Hope Morley: Guy, for today’s episode, I’m going to start with a little hypothetical story. I’d like you to come on a journey with me. 

Guy Bauer: Okay.

Going on a journey. I have my backpack, my iPhone-

Hope Morley: So let’s imagine that you work in marketing for Kit Kat, for candy bars,  you are starting to think about your big campaign for next quarter. So what you do instead of starting with a strategy, instead of thinking about who your target audience might be or  thinking about who you’re trying to convince to eat more Kit Kat bars, you start by just looking around at what other candy bar companies are doing.

So you go to YouTube and you find that Snickers Super Bowl ad the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” with Betty White and you think it’s hilarious. This is great. I would love to do something like this for Kit Kat. 

You take that idea and you think, you know what we could do. You’re not you when you need a break and you just call up your agency and you say, Hey, here’s what we’re going to do for our next campaign.

It’s going to be, “You’re not you when you need a break.” Cause you get it. It’s different from the Snickers ad because this is our brand and our brand is about taking a break and not being hungry, but it’s, you know, totally not the same idea. 

And you go to your ad agency you just say, Hey, make this, this is what we’re doing. And this is how we’re moving forward. This is our creative because it worked for Snickers. So it must work for us. 

When I go through it this way, talking about a consumer brand, it sounds kind of ridiculous. I would hope that nobody comes up with their ad campaigns this way, but we see all the time with our B2B clients, that they start by looking at what other people in their industry are doing and just copy it by and put their own brand twist on it. So instead of “you’re not you and you’re hungry,” it’s, “you’re not you when you need a break,” but it’s essentially the same. 

Guy Bauer: It’s almost plagiarism. I mean, they edit it enough to be, I guess, different, but it still is the same construct. It’s the same hook that they’re using the same… Other people’s work is not a template for you. It’s for them. The thing is a lot of brands that make the mistake of, they don’t understand that the hook itself is custom to that brand. Like the hook, the construct, the template, whatever is actually part of what the agency did on purpose and by you copying the hook, the template, whatever, and putting your brand in.

Yeah. The words may be different. The words are custom for your brain, a brand, but that hook, that framework, whatever that you’re copying was not made for you. You’re flying someone else’s ship almost. And actually what’s interesting is if you copied that blatantly, all you’ll do is remind people of your competitor who did it better.

And did it first. They’ll know what you’re doing. Like they know that you’re copying.

Hope Morley: Especially in B2B. I think it can be even more obvious when you’re copying a direct competitor, because if your prospects are doing their research and are going from competitor website to competitor website or competitor’s YouTube to competitor’s YouTube, and trying to figure out what the best product is for their needs, they might be actually watching these spots back to back. 

So if you’re doing the same thing that your competitors are doing, you’re just, I mean, I don’t even know what you’re doing. You’re just wasting your money.

Guy Bauer: Well, at best, at best, the best case scenario is that you will have copied successfully, but still that’s the best it gets. At best you’ll look like consensus at best. You’ll have perhaps done damage to your competitor who innovated the concept. And so potentially, you know, you’re holding them back, but odds are your competitor did it better. Because it was done for them. Right. They originated it. So the best you’ll get is a high fidelity copy. And that’s if all cylinders are firing, you’ll get a high fidelity copy. Most likely you’ll have a mid range to, you know, like you’ll just have a mediocre copy and you will see, be seen as just a copycat and, this whole idea I steal from Red Letter Media is your customers won’t say this out loud, but their brains will be thinking, is that you’re a follower brand. You’re not really a true innovator. You’re kind of second rate. So copying is not a strategy. It’s so weird that, um, so many people I think that like, copying someone else’s thing can shortcut all that strategic work of who are we talking to?

I mean, uh, not that there’s any pain behind today’s topic.

Hope Morley: Never. We never come up with topics based on experience.

Guy Bauer: It’s like in those CSI things like ripped from the headlines, like ours are ripped from projects. You know, it’s funny, you know, when you copy, you can’t answer the question, who is this talking to? What is the key, most important message. And maybe you can retrofit some BS answers in there, but your strategy did not start with answering those fundamental questions.

Your start strategy started with it’s what they did.

Hope Morley: Yeah, I saw this thing and I liked it. 

Guy Bauer: I mean, copying a direct competitor would be to me insanity. Potentially, potentially I can make an argument, like okay. So Kit Kat and Snickers, that’s like very obvious same category and all that stuff. Now, like an IT company borrowing from Snickers.

Like, you’re not you, if your IT isn’t working, right. Oh, that works look. Okay. So it’s not as egregious because you and Snickers will never go head to head for clientele, but still everyone knows what you’re doing. They’re like, oh, you copied the Snickers ad.

So again, the medium is the message. Your customers aren’t saying this but their brains are know it, they are thinking it like, oh, you’re just a copycat. You’d never want to be seen that way. It just does brand damage to be seen as not an originator. Cause it’s saying a lot of stuff about your brand without saying it. That’s the biggest issue.

Do you want to be known like, you know, no brand has a value, like we copy from people. Like that’s not a value. I’ve never seen that. and but that’s telling your audience, your values. And I understand it worked, it worked for that company. You have to do it.

Hope Morley: But it worked for that company because presumably they put in the homework upfront. 

And they developed a strategy around it. They tested the messaging, they figured out who they were talking to and what might resonate and then built creative around that. If you’re not doing that homework first, even if you’re talking about a direct competitor.

So you think like, well, they’re a direct competitor. So our strategy is the same as their strategy. Right. I would argue that that’s not only shortsighted, but it’s also just going to lead you down a path of never being able to differentiate your brand. Because if you assume that what your competitor is doing is what you should be doing.

Then you’re also just making an assumption that you’re not actually different. 

Like you’re making this assumption that your job as a marketer is what you know, like what are you contributing at that.

Guy Bauer: And the other thing is, I mean, we haven’t talked about, you know, like lawsuits or cease and desist.

So imagine you do copy a construct and then your competitors, like we know what you did. I know you can’t copyright ideas, so it gets a little hairy. So especially if you’re not plagiarizing a script word for word, but still there’s like, you know, it could land in the trades that so-and-so is upset at so-and-so for copying it.

And, and again, it’s just to me, the risk actually what’s so funny is so many brands are risk averse and they risk themselves into kind of lame creative. But then it’s so weird. Those same companies will then blatantly copy and ignore the risk of kind of copying. And you’re also actually, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you copy you, you, that is a vote of confidence to the originator. So it’s like, almost like, it’s like you taking your marketing budget and saying, yeah, the company who came up with this idea is really on point.

Like we love their message. That’s really, you know, imitation is the sincerest form flattery. Every time we get copied, there’s part of me that’s angry, but then there’s a part of me. That’s like, well, this is great. We’re onto something. So that’s what you’re doing publicly verifying that your competitor was onto something and had a good point.

Hope Morley: You’re like, you know what? That guy’s got a good idea.

Guy Bauer: I’ll tell you like the older I get, the more I love Marshall McLuhan. I think he was an absolute genius. I got to learn more about him. But everything is said in the subtext, everything, everything is said in the not things that aren’t said, it’s the same thing. Like think of, we’re all into all these murder shows on Netflix and true crime.

I mean, every murderer says they didn’t do it. So if you take a murderer’s words, they all say they didn’t do it, but it’s in the subtext. That’s how the investigators can find out who did it. Life is really in the subtext. It’s not really in the words, same thing here. Like, you know, I understand you’re taking their vessel, right.

Their template and pouring your words in it. I understand. But the bigger, bigger, bigger picture is everyone can see it’s their template. It’s theirs. But in the mind of your customers, they know what you did. 

Hope Morley: And the thing, you know, you mentioned brands being risk averse. And so it seems like a de-risked to option to copy what already worked. You know, that seems like the easy thing to do, but really you’re spending all this money to make an ad. And all that you’re doing is proving that you’re not different.

And what’s the point of making an ad if it’s not to just show how, how your brand and your company is different and superior to your competitors?

Guy Bauer: Now I’ll just, cause this episode is a little admonishing, so if you’ve never copied a we’re sorry, we don’t mean it’s like when, when you were a kid and I was always good, but the teachers would always yell at us as a group. You know, and I’m like, wait, I didn’t do anything, but they’d all like punish us equally.

So I okay. Listener who has never done this, we’re sorry. We’re not yelling at you. We’re yelling at the other ones and they know who they are. But let me show some empathy here. I get it. And honestly, me as a younger man, I feel like I had done this quite a few times of taking a spot that I really love understanding the beats of it. Like basically deconstructing it down to a template and then I would put my words in it.

I’ve done this many times, actually many, many times, and I could say it came from a place of lack of confidence in my own creative ability because why reinvent the wheel or, or, or not even that it’s like, I don’t know if I can really do this. So let me just take someone else’s. But I can tell you 100% of the time, those spots, where we were kind of stealing someone else’s template, no one has ever loved them.

No. Again, it’s like, it’s just in the subtext that it’s not yours. There’s a mismatch. It’s almost like last week’s episode, it’s like the wrong organ in the wrong body. The body will reject it. And then every time this is the truth. Every time I’ve ever just had confidence to just go forge a new path.

It has always worked. It’s like everyone is like, yeah, that’s great. It’s because the whole thing has started from a high level strategy and then logically informed what the template, what the hook was and then what the words were. And all that stuff. So it’s, I understand it’s, you know, it’s a risky, this is so risky, this stuff, especially when you get into the big bucks and your job’s on the line, but I can absolutely say with 100% confidence, copying is not less risk it’s more.

And the risk of it, the chances of it ending in just mediocrity actually go up exponentially. That’s probably usually. I would say all the stuff that we’ve ever borrowed and all that stuff has ended in just mediocre mediocrity. It’s not like anyone was like, we weren’t sued or anything. It’s just mediocrity.

You just look like a second great thing. And that’s it. It’s just, it just goes, it’s like the end of Moby Dick and the ocean rolled on and that’s it. Your thing just sinks. 

Hope Morley: It just exists. 

Guy Bauer: Just as below the ocean, 10,000 feet or whatever, and just ocean goes on, you really have to be brave. And that’s the number one core I think of marketing. I think Fernando Machado, I think he’s brilliant and all that stuff. I think his number, one thing that he has, the number one asset, that he has is bravery. He’s a brave dude. He’s extremely brave. And so I think that’s what it takes to just like, just go do something different 

Hope Morley: and start with your own strategy. Don’t start from a place of copying. Like really spend the take the time. It will probably, I don’t want to say save you money, but it will make your advertising more successful in the long run. If you figure out who you’re talking to, what the message is that you have to get across, because it’s very likely that you will find that your message isn’t supposed to be the same as your competitor’s message.

Guy Bauer: Right. 

Hope Morley: And then yeah, because if it is then, like, what are you even advertising for?

Guy Bauer: And just be you. Like have the confidence to be your own thing. And I know that’s weird and hard and especially when you see the competition and it really is good work. 

Hope Morley: And that’s a hard place to be in. It is, it is hard to watch your competitors do some, like, release something great. And think like, oh man, I hope that we can do something like that this year.

Guy Bauer: But the way to do that is not to take that and try it again. You’re almost like just like a meme maker at that point. I’d rather you do your own thing and not be as quote unquote successful or have like critical acclaim, the same as your competitor, but be different because the thing is as Hope always points out videos have a long shelf life. So yeah, maybe you may not get the pomp and circumstance, but two years down the line, when your video, when your ad is on your website and it makes sense for your brand, you will convert. So maybe you won’t get all the same, like adulation when it launches. But it’ll be more effective because it’s for you.

Hope Morley: Yeah. And if you want to maximize that shelf life, you need to make sure that it’s consistent with your other messaging because if you’ve put out something that’s not consistent with your brand, then you’re eventually just going to take it down because you’re going to realize that it’s not sending the message that you want to be sending.

So if you’re making this investment in making this spot, you know, you really want to make sure that this is a long-term message that you want to send. Video marketing is a long play. It’s the long game.

Guy Bauer: Oh, I mean, there are spots that we make where we don’t see anything when they launch and they kind of launch and then you’re like, oh, I guess it was a dud. And then two years later, we’ll convert a client. Oh yeah, it was that thing. It’s crazy that the shelf life, and we’re actually going to do an article, I think about it, 

Hope Morley: I’m working on it. 

Guy Bauer: So again, we apologize. This was an admonishing, a group admonishing. If you’ve never done this, our apologies. If you’ve done this, shame, for shame, No, just don’t do it and call us, we’ll give you an idea. But yeah, I would say is just resist that urge. Because at best you’ll just do a great copy.

That’s the best result is a great copy. You’re still in the copy bucket. 

Hope Morley: Yeah, just remember, starting from a place of copying is not going to be a successful strategy. You have to start from a place of a strategy and a creative development. That’s creating something that works for your brand.

Guy Bauer: Yep. 

Hope Morley: Anything else?

Guy Bauer: I got nothing. A lot of pain here. Ah, Hope, where can people learn about more info or like read the show notes and stuff like that. 

Hope Morley: If people would like to learn more about us and this episode and the work that we do, they can visit us on our website at umault.com. That’s U M A U L t.com. You can also find us across all social media channels at Umault. And if you want to just reach out to us directly, you can email the show at [email protected]

Guy Bauer: I will email now. 

Hope Morley: Looking forward to it. 

Guy Bauer: Cool. 

Hope Morley: Thanks Guy.