Internet Nostalgia

Let’s Revisit JibJab

They’re still around actually

Welcome to part 12 of our Internet Nostalgia series, which looks back at phenomena that captured the internet’s imagination and attention for a fleeting moment and then vanished as everyone moved on to something else. This series looks back at those olden times and what they told us about the internet and ourselves. If you have a suggested topic, email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. Last week, we looked at the Double Rainbow guy. This week: JibJab.

Date: 2000–21, but really 2004.

The story: The joke about silly, hackneyed, very dopey “funny” internet videos sent around today is that they’re the sort of thing your grandmother or ancient uncle might send you. But in 2004, we were all our grandmother and ancient uncle in internet time. All sorts of things that weren’t funny in the real world seemed funny simply because they were created by the internet in 2004, from Peanut Butter Jelly Time to the Quizno’s cats to, yes, JibJab.

JibJab was a “digital entertainment” company that had made a few videos around the turn of the century that featured cartoons of celebrities doing “funny” things in goofy music videos. I remember seeing a couple of them, shrugging and thinking, “Okay, that’s something I saw—wait, did I leave the iron on?” But the 2004 presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, a contentious race that mostly exhausted anyone who paid any attention to it (because of course we had no idea how bad presidential races would get), was so ugly, the minds at JibJab decided to do a video that was both “irreverent” and heartwarming. They tried to make us all feel better about something that made us feel bad. It was Upworthy content before such content existed. It was “This Land Is Your Land,” and it was huge.

That isn’t very funny, and it wasn’t very funny in 2004. But it was just pleasant enough during an unpleasant time that something about it clicked. Suddenly, JibJab was everywhere. You could even put yourself in their videos.

(I definitely had an aunt who sent me one of these with me and my sister in it.)

Pop culture crossover: Inevitably, JibJab became part of Jay Leno’s show. They were meant for each other.

What we’ve learned: JibJab quickly went from “place that makes funny things distant family members send to you” to “serious content production company.” Their annual year in review videos routinely showed up on Leno’s show, they made commercials for every client who came to them, and made those personalized holiday cards, which became the largest part of their business. They even went into children’s programming, producing the actually-pretty-good Netflix show StoryBots.

But there is a reason, when you go to JibJab’s Wikipedia page, it mostly stops updating around 2014. JibJab ran into the same problems every other online content company ran into in the 2010s. Too many employees, too many expenses, not enough money from advertising, no subscription revenue, social media, particularly Facebook, eating into everything. JibJab kept its head above water, unlike a lot of places, but just barely. How do you know JibJab became just another media company? Because in 2019, a private equity firm bought it. JibJab is still alive, making selfie eCards like “Get That Vax!” I made one, but it’s not easy to share online, so you’ll have to imagine what it looks like for yourself.

It’s dumb and pointless and harmless, and I’ll never think about it again. No wonder JibJab survives, in zombie form, today. I fully expect, after making that video, to receive spam emails from them long after I am dead. JibJab will outlive us all.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the novel How Lucky, now out from Harper Books. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of five books, including “How Lucky,” in bookstores now. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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