Last week I wrote about how FunnyJunk was threatening to take legal action against Matt Inman, aka The Oatmeal, unless he forked over $20,000 for making “false statements” about their website and for having the audacity to outrank them for searches for their own brand. Rather than cave to this blatantly absurd threat, Matt instead called for fans of The Oatmeal and eye rollers of frivolous lawsuits to donate money via Indiegogo to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. He raised the $20,000 in just over an hour and then some–with five days left before the fundraising window expires, Matt has raised well over $200,000 for charity.
Meanwhile, FunnyJunk’s legal representation, Charles Carreon, has taken Matt’s reaction very personally despite the fact that the bulk of The Oatmeal’s sarcasm was directed towards the website and not necessarily the lawyer hired by them. Carreon has resorted to suing not only Matt, but Indiegogo and, inexplicably, both the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. Reactions to the lawyer whose skill set lies somewhere between Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons and Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have ranged from “This man is the most clueless lawyer ever” to “He’s clearly doing this for publicity.” Indeed, one user in a reddit thread I came across had this to say, not just about Carreon but about FunnyJunk in general:
…this is the definition of “any publicity is good publicity.”
- Funnyjunk has been losing traffic since their peak in the late 2000′s. Since at least 2010, they have been encouraging site users to bring in more traffic, hinting that the site will be shut down if traffic doesn’t pick up. There are plenty of references to this in comments on FJ posts, FJ tags dedicated to the “save FunnyJunk” campaign, and even a half-hearted Facebook Group.
- Last spring, The Oatmeal published a webcomic about FunnyJunk reposting his material. The comic was so popular that it eclipsed FunnyJunk.com on searches for FunnyJunk. It also brought FunnyJunk a spike in traffic, which although followed by a brief lull, increased the number of regular users to their site for the remainder of the year [source]. Although “humiliated” by The Oatmeal, his comic was boon for the site.
- Now, a year later, FunnyJunk’s post-Oatmeal traffic boost is starting to wear off, and they have returned to the same sad slide to obscurity. They would love another traffic boosting “Internet event”, but how can they manufacture one? How about lobbing a lawsuit softball to The Oatmeal, who is almost guaranteed to publically [sic] mock it in a comic, bringing FJ another site-saving traffic boost. You can see the new boost in the same Alexa report cited above. If the original lawsuit wasn’t an obvious enough of a publicity stunt, the additional “lawsuits” against the charities should drive the point home — they are serving ridiculous lawsuits because they want to make an interesting enough story that people talk about them and their site.
- The fact that bigger news outlets have picked this story up is icing on the cake for FJ. You have to understand that they are a site that desparately [sic] needs traffic, with a user base that’s unlikely to leave because of an inter-site feud. Any publicity, even if extremely negative, will only serve to drive more traffic to their site, a percentage of which will become regular users. They want this story to get as big as possible, and they don’t care how they come off.
I’ve previously written about the slippery slope of scandals and how it brought about one such controversy brought about the demise of an online cooking magazine despite some commenters positing that the negative publicity would be good for the magazine and bring them more traffic and brand awareness. Maybe FunnyJunk is pulling a publicity stunt, but if that’s the case, there are two problems with this strategy:
- It’s not a long-term solution. As the reddit user explained, even if FunnyJunk intentionally baited Matt into getting into a feud with them last year for traffic purposes, the bump from the whole ordeal was short-lived; hence their latest stunt. How many times can a website attempt to do something “controversial” before people get sick of them? Will FunnyJunk keep desperately attaching their tentacles onto a popular web figure every six months or year in a sad attempt to gain a few extra page views and signups? If so, that’s a pretty pathetic marketing model.
- They’re really shitting on their brand. Congratulations, you’re getting attention for being an asshole. Maybe FunnyJunk is fine with being the Kardashian equivalent of a humor website; after all, with so many funny websites competing with each other for users and traffic, you’ve gotta find a way to stand out amongst the crowd, so what better way to differentiate yourself than by being a mega douche? This may work for some sites, but generally you want to have positive connotations with your brand, not an immediate association with Internet pitchforks and torches. Besides, repeatedly dropping a hot Cleveland steamer on your brand isn’t a long-term solution (see point #1) and will eventually turn more people off than attract new users.
But that’s just my opinion. What about you? Would you be willing to compromise your brand’s integrity or professionalism in exchange for a little traffic boost, however fleeting it may be? Are you cool with being ridiculed or hated to a huge extent so long as you get some attention? After all, we’re living in an age where celebrities are borne from shameless reality TV shows without having any discernible talent aside from a lack of shame or integrity. Is this just a sign of the times, or do you hold out hope (as I do) that at the end of the day people will continue to reward talent and hard, honest work over a short-lived controversy or scandal?