Objectively Terrible Websites that Still Get the Marketing Done

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hamyaw podcast title card for Terrible Websites That Work.

One of the most annoying truths in online business and marketing is that sometimes… everything works.

What that means is that, more often than not, someone’s “No no, don’t ever do that” line in the sand is being crossed by someone else somewhere online… and it’s working just fine.

No photos or social proof? Some folks can get by.

Clunky copy? On rare occasions when customer need is dire enough, yep.

Awful design that assaults the eyeballs? Somewhere, somehow, YES.

If You Want What’s in the Box…the Wrapping Hardly Matters

Does that mean we don’t need designers or UX developers?

Hell no.

They make the internet a better place and create amazing, more profitable branding for the 99.999% of the virtual population who can’t get by with a jalopy of an online abode.

However, while I firmly believe the internet should be a beautifully designed, user-friendly space from end to end, the reality is that if people really need or like what you’re selling… your digital presence can be the equivalent of a used cardboard box and still generate business.

Sometimes Wonky Works

Which is probably why we had so much fun filming the latest episode of HAMYAW, and getting into the technicalities of why — as much as we hate it — sometimes, bad stuff just works.

Watch us take on WARREN BUFFET and CAPTAIN MARVEL for their objectively terrible websites — and why we love them.

In This HAMYAW episode, we’ll explore:

  • What makes a bad website genuinely work?
  • Pretty VS functional – WHICH ONE WINS?
  • Margo’s favorite website. Turns out her taste is awful, who knew?
  • A flashback to 1996… and 1995… and 1997.
  • How can “Objectively Bad” be strategic?
  • What to do if anyone questions your UX choices

BONUS: The Space Jam Website. One of the last remaining pillars of the late 90’s internet, and a nostalgic assault on the eyeballs.

Click here to join the fun.

See you over there,


Episode Transcript

And, scene.  

Welcome back, f you. Let me get centered in the moment, god. (laughter)

(upbeat music) 

Welcome back guys, it’s time for another episode of your favorite internet marketing talk show and today we’re talking about something very near and dear to our hearts which is websites that shouldn’t work but do.

Objectively bad websites are everywhere on the internet, some of them don’t work, some of them are fantastic, but the question becomes what makes a bad website genuinely work? Off the top of your head, Margo, what do you have to say about this?  

First, principles. That’s what makes them work or don’t work. Straight up, because if you understand your market and you’re actually delivering on the value prop, there are certain UX tweaks that really don’t matter.  

Sorry UX designers.  

Well no, it always matters but they would probably agree that like if something is easy to find, it doesn’t necessarily need to be pretty and so the difference between pretty and functional is really important in this conversation.

The second thing I would say is brand.

Like there are certain companies that can have like shit copy and really bad navigation but because you know who they are, you’re like, “I will dig and I will find the thing that I need to find.” But like, you have to be really big for that to work.  

Or really necessary like if a plumber website doesn’t work and it’s the one plumber in town, it does not matter. You’re gonna go to their website and get their contact information and then they’re gonna get business. And also sometimes, and we’ll talk about this in a little bit, but sometimes badness can be strategic.  


Which I’m really excited to talk about. But yeah, I think there’s so many bells and whistles, and Margo, you and I talk about this a lot, which is basically the idea that everything works in some ways. Like there are, just depending on your business, depending on your market, depending on the need for what you do, you can basically create website anarchy if you really want to and if it makes sense for your brand.

So we’ve got two examples for your viewing pleasure today, guys, of crappy websites that actually do the thing. Crappy websites that do the thing they set out to do and some of them have been around for a minute so do you wanna go first or should I?  

I do.  

Okay, go!  

I wanna show you guys my favorite website of all time and if you’re on my email list you’ve heard me talk about this one before. Okay, so for those of you who are fans of Warren Buffett, this is the official website of Berkshire Hathaway.  

Straight from 1996, baby.  

It is a work of beauty. It is like a giant middle finger to every single person who’s ever designed a website in their life. But exemplifies a few points that I would like to make. Number one, the focus on the first principle is like everything here, ironically, is really well copy written because it tells you exactly what it is.

Links to SEC Filings, Owner’s Manual, Annual Meeting Information, Berkshire Activewear. (laughing)  

I don’t know what that is but I really want to click on it.

Also, mind you, I think Wikipedia said that this is the tenth highest revenue generating company in the world, so just think about that for a second when you think about following the rules and when you can make and break them and going back to first principles of like what actually matters, where you can bend things, and where you can just say, “This doesn’t matter to my business.”  

Yeah, I think also the finance vertical has a headstart on everybody with this reality because when you go to like an Agora page, it’s like, “Oh, my eyes are burning out of my head, like I look at these penny stock pages, what is happening?”

But they work and they make a ton of money. That’s sort of why there’s always this argument about ugly sales pitches selling versus kind of creating beautiful experiences for our consumers. It’s about where your consumer is at, it’s about what your consumer anticipates and is going to need and it’s about how to get people the information they need most, in the way that they’re going to respond to it, and that’s what I think makes that website perfect for exactly who it’s for.

Well, mine’s a little different, may I?  

Oh please.  

You guys know me, I’m always a pop culture vulture so I wanted to really introduce everybody to a bit of a wonder piece of internet nostalgia right now. Internet nostalgia inspired the website for the Captain Marvel movie.

Behold, guys. This looks, no joke, exactly like a geocities page I set up in 1995. So let’s talk about this.

So this is breaking every rule in the book. Let’s see, we have terrible graphics, there are a million things moving, I don’t even know where to click. We’ve got this description, Captain Marvel flashes? Why does it flash? We don’t know.

And then we have the Carol Danvers, none of this is really making sense as to how this all fits together. But it is this amazing, can you spot the Skrull?

Oh, can we play a game?

Okay, skrull!

Correct, yeah!

Human, correct. Skrull, wrong, oh okay.

But there’s like stupid little games you can play, did you ever have a geocities site growing up?  

I did not but this still looks like something I made somewhere and would have been on.  

Yeah, and there’s even a guest book.  

Holy crap, it scans!  

Yeah like mine has this guest book, yep, yep. And they’re talking about, they’re looking for the dancing baby, is anyone concerned about Y2K?

Like this is so clearly this perfect piece of internet nostalgia for Captain Marvel’s target market which are Gen X, Y, and older, and like millennials, basically. And Gen Z maybe, but like I don’t know about them.

But you see you have all these Comic Sans script breaking again, every single rule in the book. Info, Multimedia, Play the Game, Guestbook, but it is, I think, a fantastic website, this lady keeps popping up, because it gets people curious, it inspires people to click, arguably it gets them the information they need, but it also kind of creates this moment of camaraderie with their target market.

With these millennials, Gen X, Y, and Z who would be familiar with these websites back in the day, ‘cause Gen Z would be like, “What the hell is this, my eyes are burning out of my head.” I think it just creates this really incredible moment and it looks like the Space Jam website, which is still up by the way.  

Everyone should check that out, that brought me so much joy. (laughing) Marie Kondo it if you need some joy.  

It’s truly inspiring to see, truly nostalgic, and I think, again, truly exemplary of people talking directly to their target market because even though the eye doesn’t know where to go, if you’re familiar with this style of site from back in the day, you know what to click on.

Like you instinctively can sort of navigate the page, whereas someone on Warren Buffett’s website switching to this page might be incredibly fucking confused.  

Well it’s also a really nice display of what do you want people to feel?

Because you come on here and if your target market is presumably us, right, people who are older millennials who would have been around and making that multimedia design choices in their Word document, very excited.

Remember the little paper clip that would come up and be like, “Hey, can I help you?” You feel good feels when you open that page. You look at that and you’re like, that reminds me of my childhood, that reminds me of where I used to have fun, this feels familiar, even though you are being visually accosted and none of it is actually optimized for any sort of conversion, but it’s optimized for the thing they wanted to optimize, which was feeling good, getting people to talk about it, promoting.

I also appreciate the juxtaposition between the like nice photos of modernity and people where you’re like, “Wait, that is modern, because that person looks like that now.” And then the old school graphics.  

Yeah and it shouldn’t work, it doesn’t make sense in any sort of strategic sense really aside from like brand awareness. It makes me weirdly more excited to go and see the Marvel movie because I’m like, “I feel like this is made for me now, I feel like there will be many references to my childhood and the things that I’m interested in.”

So it kind of creates that intrigue and excitement there even though it is, all in all, an abomination. Should we look at the Space Jam website real quick?  

Yes, we must!  

I’ve got it up, I’ve got it up, fear not.  

Take us away.  

Look at this, every mistake.  

Planet Bball.  

Where am I supposed to click? Press Box Shuttle, the Lineup, Junior Jam, where should I click, should we go on an adventure?  

I actually feel like I’m having a stroke. (laughing) It’s too painful on the eyes!  

The Lineup, oh! This was a real website guys.  


Like this was a real website, oh games? Oh games!  

There’s games!  

Oh my god, how did you even see that?  

How did you miss it? Wow!  

Ah, what rival calls Bugs a long-eared galoot?  

See, this is what makes me really grateful for anyone in UX because this is where we started, like when anyone questions you, you just need to send them this website and be like, “This is why we do what we do, this is why we matter.” Because now you’ve gone into a vortex, how do you even get back to the main page? I don’t know.  

The Lineup is blinking, like this is blinking.

How old is Bugs Bunny, who cares?  

Is it 88 years old? Oh no! Alright, I’m gonna stop but we’ve got the Behind the Jam, god this is just wild to me. You know, we gotta appreciate how far we’ve come though.  

Here’s the point we want everyone to take away: it’s that you gotta keep your focus on who it’s for and what it’s for. So, understanding the audience, what they need and how your website serves that end and setting up your goal up front of knowing like what do I need this to do?

Do you want to look good in front of your colleagues? Do you want to engender positive brand affinity and foster conversation? Do you want conversions, do you want sales, do you want a reference site? Know what you’re going and doing and don’t say all of the above cause it’s not gonna work.

Every client says, “I want it to do all those things.”

Well, it won’t. 

Alright, well thank you guys so much for watching, we’ll be back in two weeks. I’m Margo Aaron,  

I’m Hillary Weiss.  

This was HAMYAW.

Photo by Juliet Clare Warren

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