Matthew Keegan
Jul 28, 2023

Twitter: Is Elon Musk the biggest obstacle for advertising on X?

SOUNDING BOARD: Rebrand or no rebrand, Campaign asks if the real reason advertisers have abandoned Twitter is a lack of confidence in Elon Musk?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Here's an equation: What's the value of "X" now that it's replaced the blue bird?... By all accounts so far, negative.

Certainly, most of the reaction to Twitter's rebrand to “X" has been overwhelmingly cautious in the past week. The new X logo, apparently a “minimalist art deco” design, has turned out to be a random X that a Twitter user tweeted at Elon Musk and is based on the unicode typeface Blackboard bold, raising doubts about whether the symbol may be given copyright or trademark protection.

So what is X and what does it represent? Until now, the letter X has mostly been associated with algebraic equations, X-rated material... perhaps not the best character to use, but one that Elon Musk is reportedly "obsessed" with.

It's all part of Musk's long-term plan to turn Twitter into "X, the everything app”. A super-app akin to China's WeChat. In June last year, Musk reportedly told Twitter staff: “You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can recreate that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success.”

However, after buying Twitter in October last year, Musk has already made a series of changes, each appearing to be more unpopular than the next, and the ‘success’ he spoke of has yet to materialise. Not to mention that advertisers have substantially deserted Twitter resulting in the social platform losing almost half of its advertising revenue since it was bought by Musk.

But perhaps, the main obstacle in Twitter's way is not the critically-panned rebrand, nor the other changes to the site that Musk has made on the fly on his public feed, or the so-called "Twitter killer" rival called Threads, launched by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta earlier this month.

Maybe the elephant in the room is Musk himself. We asked the industry if Musk is indeed the real issue, and what would it take for advertisers to regain confidence in the platform?

Mitch Incoll
Head of strategy, Media.Monks AU/NZ

"He’s killed the bird. He’s playing the long game. This is a man aware of his platform. Aware of his influence. Aware of his impact.

It’s safe to assume that Musk is acutely aware of the machine he is operating. He’s set a vision. He’s building and integrating an ecosystem. He’s powering it with sophisticated AI systems. If anything, this moment stands as a good reminder for advertisers to look beyond the fundamentals of marketing and branding. Transforming a business is a completely different ball game and in this instance has come at the sacrifice of most of the things advertisers are taught to hold onto so tightly. Time will tell if it was the right move.

It goes without saying that advertisers want to reach people where they spend time and money. Most notably, advertisers will want to see growth in users. What is “X”s’ plan to acquire new users? How fast can it surpass the competition? Win back the customers already lost?

Additionally, brand safety / standards remain a big priority for advertisers. In recent months we’ve seen the platform reinstate access to radicalised people and profiles under the guise of free speech. Advertisers and especially more progressive ones, will want to make sure their values are aligned and that the platform won’t result in any issues with brand trust."

Rita Goh
Strategist at R/GA

"I would attribute “X”’s lack of success to the exodus of its user base, rather than advertisers’ lack of confidence in Elon Musk. Twitter users have long complained of bots and trolls ruining the platform. I don’t believe that rebranding Twitter to “X” will move the needle much in terms of earning back advertisers’ trust. Advertisers will invest where there is an audience.

Some potential ways they can restore advertisers’ confidence would be to:

1. Clean the platform of bots and trolls — this would make existing Twitter users more likely to stay, and win detractors back.

2. Stick it out with its business pivot — Musk has teased that he wants to transform Twitter / X into a super-app, much like WeChat. With a wholly new value proposition that goes beyond 280 characters, Twitter / X might just be able to earn back advertisers’ confidence."

Anthony Smith
Brand director, Jaywing Australia

"The Twitter empire seems to have been on the decline for advertisers since Elon’s acquisition and his desire to tinker with the way users interact with the platform.

In that sense the rebranding to “X” will be seen as another vindication that the platform is moving away from its roots and with little known confirmation of its flight path with Elon at the controls. If anything, the timing of the Threads launch looks better by the day.

I think a clear directional plan would help, it’s currently living in an evolutionary state and its brand equity built over the past decade or more might have been the only thing keeping many on the platform. It remains to be seen how the dust settles and whether a clear audience of loyalists remains that advertisers can target. For now, it’s looking like a pretty solid example of how not to go about a rebrand."

Daniel Molyneux
Chief strategy officer, Claxon

"Although abandoning a well-established brand with a decade's worth of equity might seem risky to us normal folk, few doubt Musk's ability to successfully execute this transition. The popular saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad PR." and it's certainly caused a media storm.

I expect that advertisers will adopt a cautious "wait and see" approach before committing to any major budget decisions. The change will likely have some immediate short term impact causing investment hesitation but Musk is well known for this type of behaviour and surely has an X-factor play up his sleeve.

If reports are correct, this new version of the X platform is expected to incorporate features like commerce, payments, and games. For advertisers, this could be a more enticing proposition compared to the platform's previous struggles in convincing them.

I believe the confidence will come from the numbers. What remains intriguing is whether the rebranding, along with the introduction of these proposed new features will lead to an increase in user growth. Alternatively, with the launch of rival platform Threads, we might witness a further decline in user base with Twitter's loyal fans deciding to switch sides."

Paige Wheaton
Chief partnerships & investment officer, Initiative

"If Musk’s approach to regulation and more broadly the customer experience are deprioritised, confidence will continue to decline.

However, we love a comeback story and there’s always opportunity for growth and evolution. Some suggested developments (e.g. fintech ambitions) are transformational and we’ve seen through fellow Musk led ‘X’ named businesses that innovation is achievable. The question will be whether these can be pulled off as the lack of confidence is directly correlated to delivery and outcome which continues to be challenged."

Kellyn Coetzee
National head of media & analytics, Reprise

"After 15 years, it seems a waste to abandon a brand so strong it’s become a verb, and according to Vanderbilt University the estimated brand impact is at least US$4 billion. The timing of the rebrand, coinciding with Threads' entry into the market raises questions, as users may now have more reasons to explore alternative services amidst the changes.

As of now, the media industry has taken the rebranding in its stride, placing bets on the new verb, (my money is on "Xpressions") and there have been no reported disruptions or major changes due to the transformation.

Going forward, Twitter / X could benefit from regularly engaging in dialogues, surveys, and focus groups to gauge advertiser sentiment and collect valuable insights. Actively incorporating advertiser feedback into platform improvements shows a commitment to meeting their requirements."

Jia He Lim
Director, data consultancy, Assembly

"The transformation to “X” has significant implications for advertisers. They would essentially be investing millions in media budgets in a different product, with a very different brand association. Until X find its identity and place in consumers’ digital habits, advertisers will likely take a “wait and see” approach before diving in.

With that said, the scale of ambition Elon Musk has for his enterprises will likely bring a lot of momentum and turbulence during this transition. The level of confidence in Elon Musk is less pertinent as compared to advertisers’ appetite for the exciting but turbulent course Musk would take to power through."

Tony Chan
Regional strategy director, Assembly

"I believe that the X rebranding is the beginning of something larger, and Elon Musk will launch something groundbreaking once the brand takes hold. If X successfully does that, advertisers will start flocking back in because that is where the traffic will flow.

They do need to introduce a better, more unique product – which we know Elon Musk is capable of as he has been doing it all along. With Meta introducing Threads and TikTok announcing a text-only publishing option, the old Twitter has lost its key uniqueness in just a few weeks."

Daniel Young
Managing director, consumer PR and influence, Ogilvy

"I think it’s important to remember that Twitter has never been a leader in the social advertising space. Advertiser confidence is already starting from a low base. This could change when the X team under Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino start to share more details about their vision and plans for the platform. Advertisers will want to see user growth on X and engagement with the transactional features that we would expect to see as a part of an everything app. 

It's interesting to reflect on the fact that while Meta created a carbon copy of a failing app and stagnating user experience with Threads, Musk is acting as the visionary with plans for a complete overhaul of the Twitter platform, now X. Musk is a proven innovator, yet it remains to be seen whether his vision will become a reality that advertisers want to buy into."

Sonam Shah
Founder and CEO, Treize Communications

"This re-branding exercise seems to be more from a larger perspective, wherein the aim seems to be to eradicate the brand Twitter from public memory and bring in a fresh brand identity with new offerings and tools. This step shows quite evidently that Elon Musk does not want to bask in the glory of the brand value and lineage of Twitter but rather build something more apt to evolving times.

From an advertiser’s standpoint, as far as good ROI is achieved and the target audience is reached, there will not be much ripple effect on Twitter’s re-branding. Advertisers will eventually start seeing this as a new platform altogether, which will allow them to reach out to a new set of audiences entirely, as there will be a lot of people now getting active or joining Twitter, with utmost curiosity."

Rob Estreitinho
Planning director at VCCP

“Honestly the way this rebrand is being handled is just another symptom of the problems with Twitter and Elon Musk. One thing that he seems to be forgetting is that advertisers are not only questioning if Twitter/X is a brand safe environment, they are doing it in the context of needing to cut budgets and going to what has delivered before. Major publishers like the WSJ and Business Insider are reporting that he is threatening to remove business checks from brands who don't spend a minimum in advertising over the next 30 days, which does not help anyone feel like they would want to in the first place.

One thing that should not be forgotten though is Twitter had a strong brand, a very distinctive brand, and all of that got eroded on what seems like a whim. So if you believe strong brands encourage trust and can even command a price premium, then this feels like a mistake that's hard to come back from.”

Campaign Asia

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