A sticky WIC-ket: Offbeat Bride is part of the Wedding Industrial Complex

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There's a lot of talk in the alt-wedding world about the “wedding industrial complex,” that runaway freight train of wedding industry grossness that's always pressuring you to do things a certain way because supposedly that's how things are done. (Read as: “that's how the industry makes money.”)

Lots of us hate the Wedding Industrial Complex, which some people abbreviate as “The WIC.” I get pitches almost daily from business folks trying to get publicity for their wedding products that I'm like, “Are you kidding me!? This is the worst kind of exploitation of insecurities and fears and UG SO GROSS!” This is to say, I feel y'all on the loathing of an industry that can be insidious and damaging.

I think it's also important, however, to reiterate something I've written about several times before: Offbeat Bride is absolutely part of the wedding industry. From a long but super-important post I wrote in 2011:

Have corners (and maybe even whole hallways) of the wedding industry woken up to the fact that nontraditional weddings are a viable business market? Yes. Absolutely yes, and if you think that's a bad thing, well, I hate to tell you this — I am to blame. Offbeat Bride is a business… and even more than that, it's become an industry node. A whole niche wedding industry has sprung up around this site.

I heard from one of our early ad clients recently. She IMed me last week to tell me that when she surveyed her readers, 40% of them were STILL coming from Offbeat Bride, almost four years after her first ad. She now supports her family with her small business and has several employees. This is, without a doubt, the very coolest part of my job: helping little tiny indie businesses blossom by sharing their awesomeness on the website. I am a farmer of awesome blossoms!

While this is warm and fuzzy, it also means that yes: offbeat weddings have indeed become their own industrial complex. (I suppose we could call it the OWIC, if you're into acronyms — which we all know I'm not.) There's a whole tiny micro market of artisans and designers and planners and jewelers who make their living off of you and your wedding.

One of the perennial criticisms of Offbeat Bride is “they pretend to be anti-WIC, but they're totally WIC.” I take issue with this feedback not because I disagree with the second half, but because I think the first half is unfair. Offbeat Bride is absolutely, 100% part of the wedding industry, and I hope we've never misrepresented that.

Offbeat Bride is a publication dedicated to stories about weddings, and our business model is based on selling advertising to wedding companies. No bones about it: that makes us completely part of the wedding industry, something that I desperately hope no one has ever felt misled about.

As a publisher, since 2007 my goal has been to be the change I wanted to see: I want a wedding industry that isn't hetero-normative, one that doesn't ignore grooms, one that doesn't try to make a sale based on making its clients feel insecure. Through the articles published on Offbeat Bride, I want to shift the wedding industry by cheerleading those who don't often see themselves represented in other wedding media — whether that's because of body size, disability, age, ethnicity, nerdiness, gender identity, or relationship modality.

Despite our best intentions, however, I strongly believe that everyone should think critically about all wedding media, absolutely including alt-wedding media. (As we say on our About page, “Your wedding should be a reflection of YOU, not other people's tastes — and that includes ours!“) Really, you should think critically about ALL media, period. Remember that if you're reading something for free, your eyeballs are the product. This means you need to be savvy about stuff like hate reading, and thoughtful about a publisher's business motivations.

I try to be pretty transparent about how I do business (yay for the Offbeat Empire's business blog!), so I hope no one ever feels misled. That said, I do recognize that there's a friction… how can you dismantle the exploitative, gross parts of an industry while also being a part of it? We try to do it by being selective about our advertisers, and respectful of our readers. We're also increasingly dabbling in vendor education on issues like client gender identites and groom involvement.

I'd love to hear from readers, though: any feedback about how we can all better navigate the weirdness between not liking the mainstream wedding industry while also recognizing that we're supported by a corner of it?

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Comments on A sticky WIC-ket: Offbeat Bride is part of the Wedding Industrial Complex

  1. I have no issue with you guys being part of the big ol’ WIC – I don’t mind any sort of industrial complex selling me stuff, as long as they are honest, have well-thought out values and care about their customers/guests/clients…etc! Often those are the best, most successful businesses, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  2. I would imagine it is extremely common (if not damn necessary) to love/hate the industry one is in to work for, and build a company such as the Offbeat Empire. If you were content (and/or willing) to go with the normal flow, this whole wonderful machine couldn’t exist.

  3. “As a publisher, since 2007 my goal has been to be the change I wanted to see: I want a wedding industry that isn’t hetero-normative, one that doesn’t ignore grooms, one that doesn’t try to make a sale based on making its clients feel insecure.”

    I see that last part as being the most important. Getting married should never make you feel bad about yourself, but that is how many wedding-related businesses make money. “You’re not thin/pretty/rich enough, but you can buy these products to be thin/pretty/rich enough for one special day!!”

    It’s always been obvious to me that OBB is a business because of the ads and clearly-labelled sponsored posts. But it’s a business that supports being true to yourself, whoever you are, and that is what I like about it. Honestly, I wouldn’t even be reading wedding-related websites if I weren’t looking for places to spend my money, so I appreciate that you’re able to show me vendors whose values are in line with my own.

    • Getting married should never make you feel bad about yourself, but that is how many wedding-related businesses make money.

      To play devil’s advocate here, some folks might argue that Offbeat Bride does apply its own kind of pressure on readers — that every wedding decision should mean something, or that if you’re not having a theme wedding, you’re too normal.

      As you can see from the posts I’ve linked above, I don’t think we’re about any of those things, but I understand that when folks are feeling insecure about their wedding, almost any input can feel like pressure. The challenge for me as a publisher is just to make sure that I’m constantly balancing our wildly offbeat content (which some readers find intimidating) with reminders and reassurance.

      Updated to add: No need for me to play devil’s advocate, just read this comment.

      • That is a good point. I’ve read enough posts addressing the “not offbeat enough” idea to understand that the pressure is unintentional, but not everyone has seen those.

        I think that seeing a wide variety of weddings featured is the most helpful kind of reassurance. When people see a featured wedding just like the one they’re planning, it automatically implies “your wedding is cool too.”

        • I think that seeing a wide variety of weddings featured is the most helpful kind of reassurance.

          Absolutely, which is why we try to feature both simple weddings AND small weddings as much as we can:

          One of the challenges here is that we don’t get many submissions with that kind of wedding… folks who plan small & simple weddings don’t always think there’s “enough” to share, and we can’t feature weddings that aren’t submitted to us! :/

      • Not to mention, ONE LOWMANSHIP! The whole “my awesome wedding cost less than your awesome wedding” competition. We cut every corner we could on non-essentials for our wedding (no favors, no seat covers, no professionally designed invites, etc.) and it still ended up costing an average amount because we spent the money on the things we *did* care about (photography, food, band). Because of one lowmanship I have actually worried that our wedding looked too expensive (people thought our venue cost way more than it did). Yet isn’t the goal of DIY to spend time instead of money in order to make things awesome?

        It’s all very silly.

  4. I think as long as you want to have a wedding that involves anything purchased or created for the sake of that wedding, you are “buying into” the wedding industry on some level and by necessity. What is important is to find those sites, vendors, etc that still uphold values you agree with and don’t actively try to shame you into spending more money or changing your ideal. I guess I’ve never thought there is something wrong with engaging with the wedding industry (obviously, since I’m planning a wedding) – it’s buying into the WIC (emphasis on ‘complex’) that’s a problem. So in that sense, I actually disagree that OBB is part of the WIC rather than part of the wedding industry. But maybe I missed something in the article or maybe that the ‘WIC’ refers to the industry in general, rather than a pervasive attitude within the industry.

  5. I’ve been engaged for almost a year now (and I read wedding blogs for a good year before that). I’ve saturated myself pretty intensely in wedding media, both traditional and alternative. And know what? Offbeat Bride is one of the only two wedding blogs I still read (the other being East Side Bride). It’s because OBB is authentic and thoughtful, but without coming off as try-hards. You post weddings/media from such a variety of couples that it always makes me feel welcome, because I really *believe* that your number one priority is helping me plan a thoughtful and joyous wedding. And your advertisers are a part of that. This is always the place I go to first when I’m looking for a new vendor, because I trust this blog and I trust that you will point me in the right direction. You certainly are a part of the WIC, but in a good way – you are changing it from the inside. You are our mole! And by reading OBB I’ve become a better consumer in the WIC. Together it makes for change in the industry, and that’s a good thing!

    I guess what I’m saying is…keep it up! And if I had to make one suggestion it’s that I wish you had even more rad vendors 😉

  6. When I hear the expression “industrial complex” I tend to think “aggressively producing, promoting, selling, and exploiting for profit’s sake regardless of consumer need.” An “industry complex” gets it’s power from lacking transparency when dealing with consumers and skewing the market in their favor. That’s something I don’t attribute to Offbeat Bride. If for nothing else, you are constantly reminding us to critically think about all sources of influence. You’re always recognizing that there are multiple ways to celebrate and do well, even financially.

    I don’t know how you classify yourself, but I kind of see OBB as a business-to-consumer AND consumer-to-consumer media organization. I also don’t see the wonderful ideas and real weddings shared here as a way of drumming up business or creating new services ’cause Company X is noticing a slip in revenue. Editors and their contributors feel genuine in their enthusiasm. The attitude I see is more, “Guys! Check out what this couple did… so cool! and less, “Don’t pass up this new trend! You need to include it in your wedding! Buy!”

    That’s the distinction for me. If you had more posts like this one, or more posts where businesses provide insight others might feel the same.

    • If you had more posts like this one, or more posts where businesses provide insight others might feel the same.

      Yeah, the thing I forget is that just because I wrote a post like this back in 2011, doesn’t mean that someone who got engaged in 2013 will have seen it. 🙂 Sometimes I forget that with a transient readership, I have to find non-irritating ways to repeat myself…

  7. I’ve never felt mislead by OBB. I come here because I consider myself Offbeat Lite and I like seeing alternative weddings and vendors to be inspired by. I coopted the idea of “getting weddinged” from here for what we’re calling our wedding ceremony/vow renewal. I learned of the ring warming ceremony here first and am super excited to include that in our ceremony.

    Not every idea that I see here applies to me, but I love the diverse representation here. I can read this site and not feel slimy about only seeing thin, young, Caucasian couples. I can follow links to vendors and know that I’m starting with a trusted recommendation. I still have to do my own research, I still have to filter out the ideas to find what applies to me, but I get to do so in a safe environment.

    All that to say, thanks for what you do!

  8. Posts like this remind me why I joined the tribe in the first place. The members there are awesome, but they are all inte planning process, which can get heated and angry and anti-this or that sometimes (myself included). Your level-headed, let’s bring this up and talk about it posts are some of my favorites and the mainf reason why I keep coming back.

  9. I’m happy that you addressed this because sometimes I do get frustrated about aspects of Offbeat Bride.

    I am in a serious relationship but not engaged and I have been reading and loving your blog for years. I love all the great personalized touches I see here as a welcomed counter to the WIC (a phrase I learned in my Sociology of Sexuality class in college!) cookie cutter wedding, I do get annoyed because the pressure to put all this time and energy and money into these funky personalized touches IS the WIC.

    I especially felt this way when reading this post from August: http://offbeatbride.com/2013/08/wiclash. How is feeling like you just have to have unique centerpieces and adorably-you programs etc etc any different at all than feeling like you just have to have seat covers and wear white etc etc? I don’t really think it is.

    Sometimes I think that just paying the lump price for a venue to take care of everything might actually be the most un-WIC thing you can do, because you pay the money (assuming you have the money, obviously) and you’re done. No staying up every night making pinwheels or brooch bouquets or whatever.

    That being said, I love all the weddings you profile; they are thoughtful and full of love and I have gotten great ideas from them. I guess one way for Offbeat Bride to improve on this though is to periodically recognize that you don’t actually need any of it.

    • I guess one way for Offbeat Bride to improve on this though is to periodically recognize that you don’t actually need any of it.

      Exactly this, which we try to do as frequently as we possibly can without feeling repetitive. 🙂 That WIC-whiplash post was basically a collection of links to existing posts we’ve done for years about the pressure some people apply on themselves to be MORE OFFBEATER! It was intended to address exactly the thing you’re commenting on (…although maybe didn’t succeed?).

      My personal favorite of these posts is still this one from four (!) years ago:
      Why I worry when people say they want a “unique” wedding: the pursuit of authenticity vs. the pursuit of attention

      But there are tons more in these archives:

      As I mentioned up-thread, the real issue here is finding ways to keep reminding and reassuring people… without feeling redundant. Serving a transient readership can be a difficult thing! 🙂

    • I think OBB does a good job of meeting the needs of the alternative “offbeat” bride and acknowledging that not everyone can/wants/need to have every detail “mean something”. I went well down the path you mentioned, my husband and I selected a venue for both our ceremony and reception and handed control to them when it came to picking tablecloths, place settings and glasses. We found other vendors we trusted, who listened to what we wanted and then we handed control to them – the florist, the DJ and the photographer come to mind. It’s not that we didn’t have input or make decisions, it’s just that we acknowledged we didn’t really want to control every single detail of our wedding. Did we stress out? Yes, there was still a meltdown or two. Is there anything I would change in hindsight? Absolutely. Did anything I released control of “ruin” our day? Most definitely not. Do I still think I qualified as an “OBB”, even though I didn’t letterpress my own invites or DIY my dress? Yes, without a doubt. This website does a great job of supporting all visions, which makes it a welcome node in the WIC.

  10. Honestly, this is actually a good example of what I *want* more people bringing offbeatness to the various industries that they relate to. There’s no way to avoid the fact that we ultimately live in a capitalistic, market-based society (unless you’re totally off the grid, in which case kudos, but most of us can’t do that) where “industry” is a word that describes just about everything we do.

    The important part is to have a balanced representation that fights the initial notions proposed by certain industries which reflect and amplify narrow-minded societal standards. To me, this is exactly what OBB does – it supports the fact that lots of people want to have weddings (and it’s okay if you don’t, but why are you on a wedding blog if you don’t like/want to participate in weddings?) but it builds a broader image of what a wedding can contain than the standard “on-beat” media does.

    I honestly wish every industry had these types of voices, because I think it would go a long way to helping those of us with an offbeat mentality deal with our natural gag reflex about mainstream industries – not because the industry is bad, but because the mainstream reflects some stuff a lot of us don’t agree with/appreciate, or simply leaves us out altogether.

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