February 21, 2024

X Could Be Brand Suicide or a Positive Move for Musk, Some Experts Say

  • The social media platform Twitter rebranded to X, Elon Musk announced last week. 
  • The move was quickly condemned and mocked by users of the site. 
  • Some experts said it destroyed a beloved brand. Others said it’s a much-needed new beginning. 

It’s been a whirlwind week for Twitter, or X — whatever you decide to call it now. 

The social media platform’s signature sky-bound bluebird and iconic lingo (tweet, retweet) of 17 years are no more after owner Elon Musk decided to take his recently-acquired platform in a new direction last Sunday. 

The decision to do so was a contentious one — some, like Jenn Takahashi, the founder of San Francisco-based Takahashi PR and the lively personality behind Best of Dying Twitter, described it as brand suicide. Other branding experts who spoke to Insider said it could be an opportunity for Musk to clean his slate, and present a new, less controversial, vision for the platform.

Musk declared the change to X last Sunday and said it eventually would become an “everything app,” allowing users to “conduct” their “entire financial world” on it.

 

 

In response, many users swiftly objected to the news that the mainstay platform would now be called X, accompanied by a darker image and logo. 

“I didn’t know about your rebrand idea and was looking for Twitter Verified, and scrolled right past your X logo, thinking it was a porn site,” one user said among a barrage of other comments comparing the new name to an adult entertainment site.

“I’m not calling it X,” said another.

In a post on the social media site, a former Musk loyalist — who had once slept on the floor of then-Twitter’s office before she got fired by the company — hinted at the idea that Musk would be “destroying” his product or brand.

And analysts and brand agencies who spoke to Bloomberg said that the company could lose billions of dollars in brand value. 

Takahashi told Insider that there was no way she would have stayed at Twitter (she’ll never call it X, she said) if she worked there.

“If I were Twitter’s PR person and he tried to rebrand as ‘X,’ if he like insisted on it, I actually would have quit,” Takahashi said of the company, which got rid of its communications department last November. “Because imagine how bad it would be as a PR person to monitor for that stuff. ‘Okay, let me just see what ‘X’ has been doing in the news today.'” 

 

 

For Takahashi, much of the value of Twitter’s brand is embedded in pop culture history. She pointed out that not many other social media companies have taken a verb such as” tweet” and made it their own — that was the power of Twitter.

“If you’re watching a movie, or if you’re listening to a, I don’t know, a presidential speech, there might be the word tweet in it or retweet in it,” Takahashi said. “Can you just imagine the shift? It’s just so confusing for everybody.” 

Perhaps a reason why X garnered so much media attention is because, as founder of branding company NameStormers Mike Carr told Insider, it is in complete contrast to what people have come to know of the brand.

Carr said that the name X evokes a technology-forward position (he described it to the New York Times as “Big Brother” vibes) and, in some cultures, it could represent death. Twitter, on the other hand, is much softer and appeals to the more Millenial/Gen X audience that Twitter has come to represent, he said.

“Birds are cute, they’re fun, they chirp, they make noise, they talk to one another, they fly around,” Carr said. “It’s just a very approachable to me.”

“X is on the other opposite end,” he added. “X is sort of extreme. It’s techy, It’s harsher.”

But Elon Musk, long obsessed with the idea of a brand named X, trudged on in the face of disapproval from users. On Friday night, a gigantic flashing X logo was displayed atop the company’s San Francisco building, blinding the surrounding neighborhood.

“If you actually look at the logo that they put up on the side of the building, it was black with a white outline,” Carr said. “It was sort of ominous. One part of the X was a double line, the other part of the X was a single line. It was a little bit off-kilter or a little bit off-center.”

‘I would never bet against Elon Musk

A brand pivot will always ruffle feathers, but some experts who spoke to Insider said that how Musk moves forward with this shift could actually help the brand, which Musk himself said is losing money as advertisers pull out.

Carr told Insider that Musk has probably considered all the associations the name would evoke when renaming the company. Carr even saw a positive in all the press attention that Musk is receiving. He said that the risky move could inject newfound excitement and interest into the social media company.

“I would never bet against Elon Musk,” Carr said. “I think he’s proven his critics wrong many times.” 

And it’s not all criticism that Musk has been receiving. A new survey — albeit, one with a tiny sample size of 5,000 people compared to the 250 million daily average users on Twitter — conducted by CivicScience found that 36% of daily users and 43% of weekly users felt positive about the transition to X, compared to 27% of daily users and 27% of weekly users who felt negatively. 

Vanitha Swaminathan, a professor of marketing and director for the Center for Branding at the University of Pittsburgh, told Insider that a rebrand is usually a sign that a company is taking its mission in a different direction. 

“I think Elon Musk and X should really use this as an opportunity to solidify and change their positioning, lose some of the negative PR, be very, very disciplined in building up this brand as a positive brand name with positive associations,” Swaminathan said. 

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