The Wix / WordPress Campaign Exposes Some Ugly Trends in Both Communities

Let me start with a full disclosure: I got the Bose headphones. Wix reached out in January and cryptically wanted to send me “swag” because I’m a “WordPress influencer.” If it weren’t for my Year of Opportunity, I may have passed them up completely. I’m grateful they selected me, and find more humor in the campaign than malice. But as this, and the WordPress community’s reaction to it, has been rattling around in my head all week, there are a few thoughts I’d like to share.

What Happened?

First, if you have no idea what happened, here’s the run down:

  1. In January 2021, Wix reached out to an undisclosed number of “WordPress Influencers” asking to send us a package as part of an innovative marketing concept.
  2. Anyone who agreed got the package around April 5th, 2021. They were (much to my surprise) a pair of $400 Bose QC700 headphones. There was also a QR code that went to this video of a man pretending to be “WordPress” (or WP) saying Wix was starting a smear campaign against him and that we shouldn’t believe it. The package was from “WP.”
  3. That same week, Wix officially rolled out its campaign in a series of Tweets (both free and promoted), and ads you can find on YouTube talking about all the reasons WordPress is bad.
  4. As soon as recipients tweeted about the headphones, the WordPress community speculated as to why this would happen. Once the videos came out, many in the WordPress community felt they were in bad taste.
  5. By April 7th, Matt Mullenweg (one of the original creators of WordPress and CEO of Automattic) wrote a pretty scathing blog post condemning Wix for the negative campaign.

Is Wix Bad for this Negative Campaign?

The first question is about the morality of the campaign. Unfortunately, going negative is one of the biggest movers – it appeals to the anger and frustration WordPress users feel when using the platform. Wix has identified a problem (probably based on user interviews) and are presenting a solution.

This is anger and frustration that you will hear frequently if you move outside the WordPress bubble. I hear it all the time as I try to figure out why people are using something other than WordPress for their podcast websites.

So it’s not like they are lying when they say users are frustrated with updates and complexity.

I will concede that some of the ads are a little tone deaf. In a year where many, including myself, decided to seek counseling to help with anxiety I think Wix could have done a better job of getting their message across without the therapy session. Maybe someone who updates in the morning and then spends the rest of the day checking to make sure the site didn’t break, fixing problems, etc. when they should have been working on their business1.

Wix Knows Who They’re Targeting

A lot of comments around the campaign are, “I’m not going to switch because they sent me headphones.” They aren’t targeting people who’ve built their businesses on WordPress. They are targeting people who are frustrated with WordPress2. Targeting influencers is a way of getting people to talk about Wix.

If you love WordPress, the ads aren’t for you.

They sent headphones to people with enough Twitter followers, who they knew would tweet about the headphones. Then everyone started talking about Wix, regardless if they got headphones.

Wix Could Have Spend 25x That on a Single Super Bowl Ad

Wix should get some creativity points here: it’s different, it’s probably cheaper than a traditional ad campaign, and it got really nice headphones into the hands of some people. Because I got these, I’m giving my Sonys to my brother3.

Is the WordPress Community Justified in Their Frustration?

I get it. When someone attacks something you like, you want to defend it. But the whole reaction, including Matt Mullenweg’s post, seems a bit hypocritical.

I say that because it’s apparently only OK when the WordPress space attacks other software4, but not when WordPress is attacked for valid reasons.

May the first person who’s never smugly suggested WordPress over Squarespace (or your favorite host over GoDaddy) cast the first tweet.

And as for the current state of Wix, it’s probably been a while since you’ve taken a closer look at how they’re building out their platform.

Says Maddy Osman, a fellow headphone recipient and writer for Wix,

Many of the concerns I had about Wix based on impressions from years ago are no longer valid. It’s amazing to see how they’ve transformed the product over the past few years to something that legitimately empowers busy entrepreneurs to get online fast in a way that presents their business professionally.

And if we’re comparing Wix to WordPress, Wix’s built-in SEO features are a lot more approachable than having to install and learn how to use various SEO plugins for multiple different tasks.

I’m not saying Wix is without sin. Matt makes an excellent point that Wix seems to be the only website builder where you can’t export your data. That’s very, very bad and they should be criticized for it. That’s a problem that WordPress.com can present to Wix users in their own ad-campaign.

But the whole reaction is very, “they started it and how dare them!” All software has its problems. Don’t be mad when someone points out yours when you love to point out everyone else’s.

About the Marketing Campaign

There is a lot of anger around how the headphones were sent out and why. Here’s the thing:

  1. We don’t know how much Wix spent
  2. We don’t know what their KPIs are for this campaign. If it’s to get people talking about Wix, it worked, gangbusters.

That brings me to my final point: At least people know Wix is Wix. How many people have confused Automattic with WordPress5?

And that’s ultimately the problem. Wix knows their branding and who they are marketing to. They know their messaging. WordPress doesn’t, so this scares and confuses a large part of the community.

So What Should We Do?

Honestly the world can use a little more positivity. I think Wix could have executed better (though again, negativity gets people to act). I think the WordPress community’s response could have been better. Matt always talks about “assuming positive intent.” Frankly I think people who say that a lot are trying to get away with something.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t lead by example and respond positively. Maybe instead of calling them a roach motel, we, as a community, can talk about all the ways we are trying to solve the problems, how we’re doing it in the open, and how we let you export your data and use whatever platform you want.

See the WordPress community, for all its follies, does care about democratizing publishing. It’s why WordPress is open source. It’s why being able to export data is so important. If we don’t like when someone goes negative, we should turn the other cheek and point out the positives.

  1. This may be based on real experience. ?
  2. Though admittedly, those might not be mutually exclusive groups. ?
  3. On that note, if you tweeted about being mad for getting $400 headphones you’re not even going to use, congratulations on all your success. I will always be grateful to accept a gift, the same way I teach my toddler to. ?
  4. Which Matt kind of walked back a few weeks later. ?
  5. SO many that if I weren’t cynical, it would confuse me as to why Automattic doesn’t try to fix that misconception. ?


  1. My anger isn’t with the headphones. It has to do with their ads that use mental health as a trope for showing how bad WordPress is, apparently. This is what’s not cool.

    The headphone’s idea was clever.

  2. WordPress is overly complex, and in an area where it should offer more, doesn’t: The way WordPress handles their “posts” is stuck in 1999. The dreadful featured image and how the layperson cannot really change the layout of posts easily, even if they run their site on a modern editor, such as Divi, is a good example for that clumpsiness . Here I can say: Wix is in the right to point that out. Very many users don’t need WordPress’ complexity for their tasks at hand. That said, negativity is Zeitgeist as we can all see in the political realm. Is Wix smart by making use of this negativity in a marketing campaign? I guess we wouldn’t talk about Wix right now, if it wasn’t for their approach.

  3. While the campaign itself may have been a little tongue in cheek, sending something to people that is apparently from your competitor is just underhanded and gross. I can’t imagine any business doing that and not getting a lot of pushback from it.

  4. Wix is a 3rd party platform (server) and not a stand alone web presence like WordPress. No comparison if you are in the marketing industry. You are essentially piggy-backed to a Wix.com company site. A stand alone website will always rank higher that a Wix 3rd party site. One is portable (wordpress) and can host it anywhere. The other (Wix) is not portable and cannot move. All work developing a Wix site will be lost once you realize the platform is bad for SEO. Wix is best for the do it yourself (non-professional) storefront. I love it when the competition uses Wix; makes my job so much easier!

  5. Oh my, seems like a real smear campaign to me. But to be frank: I have loved and worked with WordPress for a lot more than a decade now and well, while there are other CMS coming and going, WordPress is still around. This is mostly due to the backward compatibility, which itself was in my point of view a neck breaker for CMS like Joomla, which did not provide this for certain release changes. But this also is a major disadvantage. While Matt Mullenweg points out that wix traps users in their ecosystem, he fails to disprove the arguments presented by the wix campaign. WordPress has grown far too complex to just be considered a blog. Anybody who wants to use WordPress as a sophisticated website with e.g eCommerce capabilities will run into problems when he really wants to make use of state of the art requirements to a modern website, let it be seo, website speed, security and design features. You will need at least 20 proprietary plugins, which themselves cost in total almost the same as a proprietary system like Shopify or shopware, while giving you the massive disadvantage of non standard updates. I have the advantage of knowing somehow which plugins work together, but this can change with every update. While WordPress has been great in implementing new editors like Gutenberg, it has failed miserably in adapting to SEO standards, which are as old as WordPress itself. Why should they, there is a plug-in for that. But there starts the guessing game: which plug-in can you use with your seo plug-in of your choice? And while Matt points out the non export functionality of wix, (by the way, I have not used wix yet), it has been a daunting nightmare for me to import and export data into/from woocommerce since every plug-in imported or exported different data differently. It wasn’t (isn’t?) even possible to natively import the permalink slug or woocommerce users, because they are being handled differently, not to mention user meta data: this is where the nested data nightmare begins. WordPress in my point of view is a dinosaur, which has grown to a complexity, which hurts. Since my last migration, where I really felt like that poor developer chap in the ad, I am rather looking for a proprietary system, where I don t have to care about a) constant updates b) the necessity to have a software stage, which I have to thoroughly test through and through before I hit that freaking update button, c) building a website that performs well in SEO in technical and performance ways without testing hundred different plugins with each other. I am at a point where I will only set up WordPress for small, Not really care intensive projects. While I did not get a pair of headphones or anything from wix, I am more than willing to give it a try to test their services, despite the fact that I wasn’t really font of their product, just because “Wix” means “wank” in German language and that was really a no go for me at first, but now I think, I might as well have a wix-website now. Lmao.

  6. Naval Ravikant posted on Twitter a few days ago, “Clear thinkers take feedback from reality, not society.”

    The reality is most people do not care about being part of a software community, or have an opinion on open vs closed source, or interest in “democratizing publishing.” Most people just want to get their business or personal website online with limited fuss.

    And the reality is that WordPress is extremely frustrating for a lot of people when all they need a simple website.

    So why pretend that Wix is employing dirty tricks? This whole “I’m shocked, shocked….!” response from some is bewildering. Wix fills a need for many folks that WordPress doesn’t. So what?

    I’ve used WordPress since 2005 and will probably be using it as long as it’s around. It’s awesome. It’s not for everyone. That’s life.

  7. “… something that legitimately empowers busy entrepreneurs to get online fast in a way that presents their business professionally.”

    This is the key point. SMB owners/managers don’t want to be compelled to learn a new language and decode endless complex themes just to get a website up. In most cases they can’t afford to hire someone to do it for them. I’ve been endlessly frustrated by “you can’t get there from here” gotchas in complex WP themes and frameworks that forced me into custom code and CSS anyway, with the added joy of having to delve into code to figure out what shenanigans the theme was up to in the first place. There’s no “democratization” here. It’s for a technically skilled elite.

    I’ve played with Wix and Squarespace and WordPress.com and bounced off each of them in annoyance at their lack of flexibility and features, but the partners running a small gourmet sandwich shop down the street just need something that looks good that they can upload their pics to and where customers can order stuff. They don’t want to do hours of fine-tuning and they wouldn’t know CSS from a caterpillar (and shouldn’t have to). For that public, Wix scores heavily for the exact reason that it doesn’t require any technical knowledge to get a decent-looking site up and running with minimal maintenance. Small businesses tend have small, non-overlapping catchment areas, so it doesn’t even matter that different sites look alike.

    Full disclosure: my Bose headphones are 6 years old and were a gift from my wife.

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