Over the last fortnight one site builder has gone toe-to-toe with another, as Wix launched a marketing campaign aimed at attracting WordPress users, and instead attracted universal ire.
First, Wix sent out expensive headphones as gifts to key WordPress “influencers” in an attempt to lure them to the platform. Second, they produced a series of adverts that instead of promoting their own product, tried to imply that WordPress is so bad you’ll need mental health counselling to cope with it; it’s been widely frowned upon, but am I alone in thinking they’re not a million miles away from Apple’s anti-Windows adverts? No, I’m not.
Then, Wix made an attempt to go viral with an uncomfortable video in which a character portraying “WordPress” releases a “secret” message warning the community of “fake news” supposedly due to be released by Wix. The language and the styling is clear: WordPress is unhip daddio.
Unlike WordPress, Wix is a publicly owned company, it has an obligation to its shareholders to maximize its revenue. Had Wix targeted WordPress’ many failings, that would have been fair game. Had they gone after Shopify, or Webflow, or Squarespace, or one of the many other site builders on the market no one would have blinked an eye. Wix’s error wasn’t going after WordPress, or even the tactics used to do so, Wix’s mistake was in attacking the very community it was attempting to court.
I’m not a big fan of WordPress. I’ve built around a dozen sites in it over the years and we’ve never got along, WordPress and I. But I am a big fan of the ethos of WordPress; who doesn’t love free, open source software, built by volunteers?
The holy grail of marketing is transforming customers into evangelists — individuals who will bare their chests, paint their face with woad, and charge headlong onto social media at the merest hint of a perceived slight. You can’t buy them. It’s a loyalty that has to be cultivated over years, and requires more give than take. WordPress has those evangelists, people who see their careers in web design as intertwined with the CMS. No amount of free headphones is going to convert them to a closed system like Wix.
The irony is that Wix’s approach stemmed from the WordPress community itself. If it is going to celebrate “powering 40% of the Web” then it has to expect to make itself a target. If you’re an antelope, you don’t douse yourself in bbq sauce and strut around the waterhole where the lions like to hang out.
If the row rumbles on, it will eventually end in an apology and a promise from Wix to “do better.” But the truth is, all Wix did was confuse a community of people trying to build websites, with a competing business.
This time next year, Wix will still be recovering from the damage to its reputation, and WordPress will be telling us it powers 110% of the Web.