WordPress.com’s TV Commercials Are Confusing

In Matt Mullenweg’s 2016 State of the Word, he announced the WordPress Growth Council. The council was created as a think-tank for individuals and organizations in the WordPress community to share ideas on how best to tell WordPress’ story to grow market share.

The Growth Council serves as a collaborative means to combat the more than $300M in advertising spent by competitors like Squarespace and Wix. In the presentation, Mullenweg stated that marketing WordPress would become a higher priority compared to previous years.

WordPress.com’s First TV Ads

Automattic has unveiled five commercials that are being tested in six different television markets. The videos were created earlier this year when a volunteer team of Automatticians visited Detroit, MI, to participate in the Rebrand Detroit project.

Working with Hajj Flemings, founder of Brand Camp University, the team helped launch new sites for nine small businesses over a 48 hour period. The sites that were launched include:

The commercials are part of a series called ‘Free to be’ where business owners share what success means to them and the city of Detroit.

Each video displays a WordPress logo in the bottom-left corner of the screen with occasional factoids highlighted across the center. The commercials end with the WordPress logo displayed in the center with the words, Websites, Blogs, and Domains underneath.

WordPress.com Commercial Ending
WordPress.com Commercial Ending

The Message in the Commercials Is Unclear

I’ve watched each commercial a few times and my initial reaction is confusion. I don’t know exactly what WordPress.com is trying to sell me. It’s obvious that these people are seeing success with hosting their sites on WordPress.com. But is it because of the tools available or is it because the VIP team or other staff members stepped in and guided them through the process?

Unlike Squarespace’s commercials that showcase the product front and center, these commercials don’t show any of the capabilities of WordPress.com. In one of the videos, the text, “Customizable websites that can change with the times” is displayed. Instead of showing the business owners changing the look of their site with the Customizer, the commercial ends.

Customizable With The Times

In a different video, WordPress’ total market share is used as a selling point. Using this datapoint in a commercial geared towards WordPress.com is unsettling. Eric Mann, a long time WordPress developer, feels the same way:

I have no problem with WordPress.com advertisements on TV or the Radio or elsewhere. They’re great ways for Automattic to build recognition of their product and encourage new signups.

do have a problem with advertisements conflating WordPress and WordPress.com by subtly suggesting that the ‘27% of the Internet run on WordPress’ is due to Automattic or is somehow because of WordPress.com.

A majority of the 27% or now 28% of the web, according to W3Techs, uses self-hosted WordPress, not WordPress.com.


Self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com have a symbiotic relationship. Getting into semantics may seem like nitpicking but it’s important to distinguish that they are not the same thing.

The marketing material used in the screenshot above conflates them. Examples like this don’t do anything to alleviate the confusion that exists between WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress.

I realize I’m not the target market for these ads but they leave me with more questions than answers. Squarespace commercials intrigue me to the point of wanting to check out what the service has to offer. Meanwhile, I don’t have any emotional reaction after watching the WordPress.com commercials.

In the future, I’d like to see a commercial that highlights the tools available on WordPress.com and shows a human using them to quickly edit and change their sites. This is something I think a lot of people can relate to instead of reading text that explains what the service’s capabilities are.

If you were tasked with producing a commercial for WordPress.com, how would you showcase the best of what the service has to offer? Let us know what you think of the commercials in the comments.


42 responses to “WordPress.com’s TV Commercials Are Confusing”

    • It’s my understanding that the purpose of the Growth Council is to grow WordPress’ market share but I don’t know if it’s specific to WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress. I mentioned it in the article to highlight that the council exists, and that marketing WordPress in 2017 would be a higher priority.

        • I agree here. WordPress.com is the equivalent to Wix, Weebly and Squarespaces. Getting up and running fast is definitely the message here. This is not a product ad it’s about awareness as well as the community values that WordPress as a whole tries to instill. The ads rather than highlighting the shiny new technology object, is more highlighting we are not a leaving you out in the cold we care about you and your community

        • I agree – the community engagement part was so clearly about values that I’m really surprised to see so many people talking about the lack of emotion in these.

          Highlighting the goal of empowering local business owners to show their story and reveal what’s happening in real life online seemed to be the marketing aspect.

          If you don’t care about the tech but do identify with local entrepreneurs and people working for their families and communities, the message I’d take away is this is a tool that supports you in your goals.

  1. The new ads popped up on my Youtube feed the other day, and they’re boring.

    I have no idea what the product is, what they’re selling, and my curiosity isn’t peaked at all. They feel more like an infomercial trying to sell some kind of hygiene product. All the stockart b-roll is horrible, and the interviews awkward and unapproachable.

    From a marketing perspective I have no idea who their target market is, and why they decided to go after that market in the first place?

    Marketing 101 stipulates that you appeal to the next generation of customers. These ads seem to be targeting people who might already use WordPress. How does that help grow WordPress?

    They’re not even marketing to their base properly. They could have interviewed well known people in the community, and instead these people look like actors or completely new to WordPress.

    I was really optimistic when I first heard Matt was hiring a marketing team but so far this is a joke. WordPress will never appeal to anyone under the age of 25 if they continue down this path.

  2. Jeff, thanks for writing this. I had the exact same reaction as you and some of the other commenters here upon seeing the ads for the first time. I have always questioned how 30-second video ads for software products can be effective, but you are correct about the Squarespace ads — at least they intrigued me to the point of checking out the product. As other comments have mentioned, what is the point here? Is it to promote WordPress as a platform, or is it to push WordPress.com (i.e. the “money-maker”). If the answer is the latter, then the ads should be pushed by Automattic, not the Growth Council (which, in my understanding, is part of the nonprofit WP Foundation?).

  3. I would not use percentage in commercial unless the number is more than 80%.

    Considering the number itself, 27% is not big enough for marketing promotion , so I would suggest to use the actual or approximate number of sites, say a number followed by a bunch of 0’s, and it will make a big impression.

  4. WordPress.com I guess has moved from blogging to rebranding cities! Well that’s exciting…

    Cricitally these are feel good commercials that try to sound cool by association but seem pointless in promoting an actual product.

    I’d love to be able to tell small businesses that want to DIY their own site to use WordPress.com (I used to years ago) but the fact is it’s not a good platform for most of them. They need a WYSIWYG theme agnostic page builder (something like BeaverBuilder) for front end site editing. Without that its still a fabulous blogging platform, but it’s not great for business like those in the commercial. WP still can be, just not on .com as it currently exists.

    This video would have been better if they’d said “we worked side by side with these businesses helping them build their online presence” and this is what they said, “it’s so easy”, “i could do it myself”, etc… only I doubt any of them said that.

  5. These videos make 30 seconds feel like a very long time.

    I do not see this article telling us who was hired to be the producer of the videos. I wonder if perhaps no professional communicators were part of the process. All too often folk engaged with computers consider themselves to be omnipotent with no need to consult with other types professionals. A professional communicator would first devote much attention to developing a proper “creative brief” that clearly states the objective of the project. As work proceeds they would constantly go back to the creative brief to keep the project sharply on course. The message should never be unclear.

  6. I agree with Jeff that the commercials are confusing. I also think they’re silly, awkward, and unrelatable to me, but extremely effective and successful. I’ll explain.

    They seem to have no point other than getting the WordPress.com name out there. They purposely omit what WordPress is or does. Random people saying random things.

    All of us who find this confusing are obviously somewhat logical minded. However, it’s a proven fact that marketing is most effective when it’s emotional rather than logical. This is obviously what they’re going for, and they’re targeting mostly creative people. Creative types won’t be confused by these commercials; they’ll instead get a vague “good feeling” (I can’t relate) that will prompt them to visit WordPress.com.

    The site will then explain their services.

    The goal for these commercials is to get them to visit the WP.com site, and I think they’ll be successful with this goal.

    Most WP Tavern readers are not the target audience for these commercials.

    • @Isabel Well spoken comments, but how do you know that WordPress.com’s commercials are “extremely effective and successful”? That’s a very strong claim. Have you seen any statistics? And while I agree that people often make decisions based mostly on emotion, that of course doesn’t mean basing a commercial on emotion is always “extremely effective and successful.”

      • I specified that I think this:

        The goal for these commercials is to get them to visit the WP.com site, and I think they’ll be successful with this goal.

        Of course I don’t have statistics on these specific commercials, but statistics exist that prove emotional-based marketing is more effective than logical-based marketing.

        • But your opening paragraph says: “I agree with Jeff that the commercials are confusing. I also think they’re silly, awkward, and unrelatable to me, but extremely effective and successful.”

          While the jury is still out on WordPress.com’s ads, there are countless examples of ad campaigns that tried relying on emotions and failed in spectacular fashion. For example, Infiniti’s 1989 ad campaign for their Infiniti Q45 is often blamed for Infiniti’s inability to come close to the massive success of Lexus.

  7. Sirius XM has been airing spots that say that you can get a 15% discount on wordpress.com if you start today.

    Talk about confusing! You can’t start for free? I did a double take when I heard that ad.

    The competition is killing it and I’m hoping the ad I’ve hearing will be pulled immediately! I’d say a serious re-boot is needed from what I can tell.

  8. The solution for WordPress to gain more market share is to make it easier to use, not run TV commercials. What’s the point of tipping more people into the top of the funnel if your retention levels are so low because of a steep learning curve compared to Squarespace or Wix?

    Seems wasteful to me. I hope I’m wrong.

    • @Troy Exactly! Why is something so obvious generally ignored and resisted by Automattic and WordPress professionals? From my perspective, while well intended, most efforts to make WordPress easier to use are basically more attempts to put lipstick on a pig. For example, StudioPress Sites were recently launched as being “WordPress made easy” but not really. And page builders promise to make life with WordPress much easier, but they can also cause numerous other issues such as theme/plug-in lock, yet another vendor to have to deal with, plus yet another application to have to learn.

  9. Well, the smartest thing I have heard said in the comments is “we are not the audience”.

    First off, having run a marketing company for 20 years, I look at this differently.

    First, these kinds of ads work… the story and not the hard-sell. No, the general population who may be interested in doing a site for themselves don’t really dare what the admin looks like. Or how it works. They want to hear what a new site will do for them. Basic marketing 101.

    And although we find the distinction muddy here between .com and self-hosted, the fact is self-hosted cannot be sold to the general public. And talk about a boring commercial if it tried to explain.

    I honestly think this campaign it to grow awareness and just the start. Getting the name of WordPress out in front of millions of people. Building the brand and not the functionality to the public. Remember, we all have been asking to steps to be taken to make WordPress even more popular… these are just some of the first.

    Again, from experience we are our own worst critiques. I can’t tell you how many times the clients we worked with went down the same path. They were to close to the product or service, and as I said, we are not the audience.

    Just my .02.

    • The issue is that making wordpress to be an alias to wordpress.com reduces all wordpress developers to “people that know how to work with wordpress.com”. As you say, if 99% think that wordpress is yet another WiX, then that what it is. Once it happens in earnest google will start reflecting it and it will become harder to find things on the net which are related to the software.

      This will dilute the brand wordpress and will make marketing harder for developers that will first need to explain what is the difference to any new prospective client. And more, now that wordpress.com starting to also be a hosting service the confusion doubles as to what exactly is the difference.

      • @mark k. Automattic’s increased focus on WordPress.com is obviously, and finally, an attempt to meet the marketplace’s demands for something far less complicated and time-consuming to learn and maintain than self-hosted WordPress. It’s also a sign that WordPress professionals also need to better focus on making self-hosted WordPress less complicated and time-consuming to learn and maintain. Because no matter how “powerful” and flexible self-hosted WordPress may be, an increasing number of people are going to decide against self-hosted WordPress as their options increase.

        • less complex like myspace? facebook? twitter? Who exactly say people want “less complex”? people want contact forms, ads, tracking, SEO, social sharing, integration with their back office, ecommerce, etc.

          People that need less features are using facebook pages. And when you have features, you have complexity.

          • Re: “People that need less features are using facebook pages. And when you have features, you have complexity.” Knee-jerk, propeller–head arrogance is the opposite type of thinking that is needed to improve WordPress (or any application), and to yes, make it less complex/bloated and therefore more competitive. Having the most requested/needed “features” does not mean WordPress has to be hard to understand and manage. For example, what must-have features do most small businesses need that WordPress has but not Squarespace etc?

        • @scott sorry but zero idea what is it that you are talking about. Sounds like you rarely work with any client…. the most important part of work with clients is to deny from them all the options that they want. Take a look at the most selling themes on themeforest…. the more bullshit options they have, the more complexity of UX, the more successful they are, your assertion that “wordpress is too complex and it hurts its usage”, while might be true in some way has nothing to base on in the real life with real users.

    • @BobWP But how do these commercials help WordPress better compete with much easier to learn and maintain services such as Squarespace and the slew of new and improved website services such as SnapPages 3.0? These ads and other recent moves also suggest that Automattic has decided to focus more on WordPress.com because it generates revenues and self-hosted WordPress is free plus far too complicated to ever be able to compete with Squarespace etc.

      • How is self-hosted “far too complicated”? Any web host will set it up for you, most have 1-click installs. If you can email and attach a photo, you can write a post and upload an image. If you need a new design, you can browse thousands of themes, install, activate. Need more functionality? Plugins galore at your service. I won’t comment on RoundSpace, Twicks or any of those other wacky site builders.

        • Re: “How is self-hosted ‘far too complicated’?”I was impressed and encouraged when he recently agreed that “WordPress is too hard, and can be too expensive to set up for many folks.” But apparently you disagree and somehow know more about WordPress than the co-founder of WordPress? Ask Matt Mullenweg, Re: “If you need a new design, you can browse thousands of themes, install, activate.” This statement completely ignores how frustrating and time-consuming it is to research “thousands of themes,” especially since WordPress themes are notoriously over-hyped and can take dozens of hours of to properly evaluate. While you may enjoy spending your time this way, most small business owners absolutely do not. Lastly, is it your position that WordPress should not be easier to learn and maintain?

  10. My personal response from watching the commercial is: a successful,
    more humanizing small business partnership for economic growth with a digital platform that can help contribute towards a greater goal. Good spot for that message. It’s not selling the product. It’s more about mutual vibe and mission. Good spot for driving that home. Thumbs up. Oh, and thanks Jeff for linking some of those sites–was wondering how they turned out!

  11. @Tada Burke

    Real mature. Accuse someone of being a troll when you get frustrated because you can’t defend your comments. If anyone is a troll, it’s someone who attacks those who are advocating improvements to WordPress.

    Fortunately, it appears that Automattic and WordPress professionals are increasingly recognizing that WordPress needs to be far less cumbersome and expensive to use in order to maintain or grow WordPress’s usage.

    • Either contribute constructively or don’t address me. I asked you why you think self-hosted is so difficult. Again, I gave you 3 reasons why it’s not. Start there. Having a thousand things on the menu doesn’t have to inflict anxiety. Just pick a theme. Lastly, I intentionally didn’t answer your snide question to me about maintaining WordPress. I’m not one to back down from people, nor do I need to defend myself. You’re honestly the one wasting peoples time …not WordPress.


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