—Does X mark the spot, or is it another nail in the coffin for a soon-to-be ex-social media platform? And how will advertisers respond to Musk killing off the blue bird?—
By Ben Bold
Elon Musk’s decision to kill off Twitter’s blue bird logo has sparked much online discussion, and it’s safe to say, in the spirit of online debate, opinion is furiously divided.
What is certain though is that, to bastardise Monty Python’s “Dead parrot” sketch, Twitter’s long-serving blue bird has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil… it is an ex-bird, replaced with an actual X.
On the one hand, reaction to Musk’s announcement on Twitter came with large servings of tech-bro wonderment, such as from Peter Yang, who tweeted (X-ed?) his “mind is blown that this happened over a weekend with a logo from a user”—a reference to Musk’s request that people submit designs on Saturday and Sunday.
Some commenters were less mind-blown, noting the new “interim” logo looks exactly like something someone came up with on their weekend, while others noted that the look resembled a user’s existing avatar.
“Yes X marks the spot, it’s a chromosome, it’s an axis on a chart, or a missing number algebra, or the multiplier in an equation, but this logo is also colourless, geometric, pointed, and stolen from an EDM artist named Kxlider,” Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of The Barber Shop, says.
‘Poorly executed whimsy’
Others, such as former Twitter EMEA vice-president Bruce Daisley, pointed out that the term “tweet” would also be pushing up the daisies, given there’s no birdsong without a bird to sing it.
Daisley tells Campaign Musk was “intent on burning down any evidence that someone was there before him because it serves to remind people that someone other than him has helped form his product”.
“It speaks to a fragile ego and an appalling instinct for branding,” he says. “News outlets aren’t going to say ‘on X someone sent a tweet’ or ‘parped an X’, or whatever his legion of tick-heads cheer loudest for. No, they will say ‘on social media someone posted’.
“There have been some bad rebrandings in history but this poorly implemented whimsy is as bad as the rest of them put together.”
Musk is someone known for dramatic and divisive moves, as well as less salubrious traits such as inflammatory opinions and language. Can we add ornithophobia to that list? Apparently so:
And soon we shall bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 23, 2023
For brand experts, the jury is still out. Sue Daun, executive creative director at Interbrand, argues that “new leadership often heralds a period of dramatic and dynamic change.”
She adds: “However, Twitter’s shift to X, a new name and identity will potentially overlook important aspects like people’s relationship with the brand, its brand equity and its standing against burgeoning competition. Ideal brand leadership should propel the business beyond mere financial considerations, instead building on a foundation of exceptional experiences and robust integrity.
“Nevertheless, one might view this transformative shift as a strategic manoeuvre that will usher X into new and adjacent arenas, which might have been difficult under the Twitter umbrella due to existing brand constraints.”
It’s a point echoed by Vicky Bullen, chief executive of Coley Porter Bell, who reflects that Musk has “wanted to launch an ‘everything app’ and his team is referring to X as being ‘the future of unlimited interactivity'”.
She cites various connotations of X—super-powered X-Men and the discovery of a new form of radiation dubbed X-ray by scientist Wilhelm Röntgen in the 1800s because he didn’t yet have a name for it.
“In fact the X name is already inextricably linked with the Elon Musk brand. X means a lot to Musk, with SpaceX, the name of his son, X Æ A-12, and now the new name for Twitter. But Elon Musk brings complex associations, which will have a halo effect on X.
“He is at best an innovator, a visionary, bold and fearless who goes where others don’t, but at worst impulsive, divisive, mercurial and unstable. So how people view X may come down to how they view Elon Musk.”
Ben Essen, chief strategy officer at Iris, describes the logo change as “the worst rebrand ‘launch’ since Gap”, adding: “If an agency had been responsible for it they’d be fired already. The CX failures, the inconsistent branding on different platforms. What a mess.”
But he goes on to argue it’s a deliberate move by Musk, who, he says, “deals in multi-decade strategic visions, and he tends to get these right,” adding that a “significant proportion of Tesla’s value is rooted into the way Musk has described a new reality for mobility—the way he can help teams and investors glimpse beyond the curtain of existing structures and see a whole new way of doing things.”
Essen too draws comparisons to Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX, visions that “quickly become new kinds of company, vertically integrated in a way no others even dreamed of.”
“In other words, this isn’t a Twitter rebrand,” he says. “This is the birth of a whole new company. One that will blend hardware, software and ‘brain hacking’ in unprecedented ways to provide us with a completely unique way of communicating.”
When Musk took control of Twitter—part of X Holdings Corp since April—many advertisers withdrew their patronage and the platform continues to haemorrhage ad sales according to various reports. The New York Times wrote in June that in the US Twitter dropped 59% in year-on-year ad sales between early April and May, news that came just as new CEO Linda Yaccarino arrived.
Daisley reckons the rebrand is not going to stem that decline.
“If the ads I’m seeing are anything to go by, the site is earning its revenue from advertisers who have migrated from home-shopping channels and grifters who are spending their pocket money on trying to reach 50 followers,” he says.
Meanwhile, Chloe Cox, head of social at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, describes the logo change as a “huge gamble,” adding that the upheaval from Musk’s constant “tinkering has caused frustration among loyal users”, such as the limit imposed on the number of tweets that can be read daily that sparked “ire from both users and marketers.”
Meta wasted little time in capitalising on the malaise surrounding Twitter, launching Threads earlier this month and attracting 100 million sign-ups in its first few days.
But Matthew Waksman, head of strategy, advertising, at Ogilvy UK, points out that Threads active user base “halved after a week,” adding “there’s clearly something about Twitter than runs deep, and isn’t easy to replace, bird or no bird.”
He adds: “It’s not a chocolate bar… whether it is picked by media planners and brands will be based on data, on how the platform evolves, and what it has to offer. This logo change is the latest piece of theatre to keep the platform top of mind (for example, in articles like these) whilst that evolution takes place.”
Ben Foster, managing partner of digital at media agency The Kite Factory, argues the rebrand comes as little surprise. “As Twitter continues to make a loss, Elon is looking to fast-track plans to overhaul the app and create his version of the WeChat blueprint,” he says.
“[He] is looking to change perceptions and remove any negative connotations associated with the Twitter brand with a reset, but the key will be to introduce new functionality quickly under the new brand, otherwise it is just a new logo. Until their aggressive product roadmap comes into fruition and we see its impact, there will be little change in advertiser attitudes towards the platform.”
For Myers-Lamptey, there’s a pertinent question—the answer to which defeats him: “Why with the launch of Threads, reports of poor ad performance and all the ridiculous talk of fighting Zuckerberg, would they think that now was the right time to rebrand to an X symbol, without explanation?
“Storytelling is a key component of any rebrand, and the story so far isn’t the one you’d want to be the reason for change.”
For Myers-Lamptey, as well as for countless others, “questions remain unanswered.”
This article originally appeared at Campaign UK.