The WordPress Community Team is discussing banning companies from sponsoring WordCamps if they advertise competitively against WordPress. A WordCamp organizing team recently brought the concern to community deputies regarding a potential sponsor that is advertising its product in such a way that it puts WordPress in “an unflattering light.”

This particular instance is prompting community leadership to clarify expectations for how sponsors advertise WordPress derivative products – products built on top of WordPress, such as themes, plugins, or distributions.

Cami Kaos published a list of the existing expectations for sponsors and those who want to participate in the community’s events program. These include items such as no discrimination, no incitement of violence, respecting the WordPress trademark and licensing, and others from the WordCamp Organizer Handbook. Kaos posed the following two questions to the community:

Should the WordCamp and meetup programs accept sponsors, speakers and organizers who engage in competitive marketing against WordPress?

How should competitive advertising be defined in the WordPress space?

The discussion post did not specify the potential sponsor in question but recent campaigns from Elementor meet the criteria of advertising against WordPress with a negative slant. The ads insinuate that WordPress isn’t user -friendly or intuitive and that without this particular product WordPress is frustrating. The company has also run ads that co-opt the term “full-site editing” on Google searches, with Elementor representatives claiming that it is a generic industry term.

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Elementor has sponsored events in the past. If the community guidelines are changed to explicitly prohibit advertising that puts WordPress in a negative light, then the company may be required to pull all of its ads that violate the new requirements in order to become a sponsor.

Bluehost is another company that might come under the microscope for its recent trademark misuse. Although the company had a meeting to resolve matters with WordPress’ executive director Josepha Haden, Bluehost still has multiple ads running with the same issue.

Feedback so far has been minimal. One participant in the discussion mistakenly thought the proposal was referring to competition in general. Andrea Middleton clarified in the comments.

“The question is whether WordPress events should co-promote or endorse people and companies that are competing against WordPress itself,” Middleton said.

“For example, if someone is running ads saying ‘WordPress is terrible, use our product instead,’ or even ‘WordPress is terrible, but our plugin makes it good’ do we want to include them as a sponsor for WordPress events?”

Defining competitive advertising to exclude all forms criticism may be too strong of a line but there should be guidelines that cover more egregious cases where a company is disparaging WordPress for the purpose of exploiting its community.

“Criticism can be healthy and good marketing when done in good faith and with a tool that truly addresses a user need,” Mark Root-Wiley said. “What makes criticism objectionable is when it strays past details of software and into harmful criticism of people and communities, and it seems like the existing standards cover that.”

The discussion will be open until April 29, 2021, when comments will be closed and the discussion will move to final review.

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