Was Elon smart to say bye bye birdie?

When Elon Musk announced on Sunday that Twitter’s name would be changed to X, he was both metaphorically and literally flipping the bird to the social network’s most ardent users. It is just the latest in a series of hastily conceived—and often poorly executed—moves undertaken by Musk in the nine months since taking over the company late last year.

But this latest move could have significant implications for the Twitter/X brand. Fortune quoted analysts and brand agencies who described it as a “completely irrational” decision that is poised to wipe out anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion in brand value.

Other experts, such as tech journalist Casey Newton, describe it as an “extended act of corporate vandalism,” whose sole purpose is to eradicate the Twitter brand as we know it. “Just as [Musk] graffitis his 420s and 69s all over corporate filings; and just as he paints over corporate signage and office rooms with his little sex puns; so does he delight in erasing the Twitter that was,” wrote Newton.

We spoke with some Canadian strategy and branding experts to get their opinion on the sudden name change, and their thoughts on what’s next for the platform are interwoven below.

What’s the vision, Elon?

Musk has openly expressed his admiration for WeChat, the Chinese “everything app” that brings together social, shopping, messaging and media, and that seems to be his vision for X. At a Twitter town hall last year, he told employees that “there’s no WeChat equivalent out of China. There’s a real opportunity to create that.”

And in a tweet—or, as they’re now known in X vernacular, “X’s”—on Monday, X CEO Linda Yaccarino said that the vision for the rechristened company was for it to become a ” future state of unlimited interactivity—centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking—creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities.”

Through both his actions and his pronouncements, Musk appears to have turned his back on advertising as a main source of revenue for X. He has almost gleefully antagonized and alienated Twitter’s advertiser base right from the start, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that advertisers won’t play a leading role in what X will eventually become.

Citing an internal presentation it obtained, The New York Times reported last month that Twitter’s U.S. advertising revenues fell 59% year-over-year, and that the company has “regularly fallen short of its U.S. weekly sales projections, sometimes by as much as 30 percent.”

“He’s said ‘What if the advertisers never come back? What if my desire for a free speech, anything-goes public square is just never going to be compatible with brand safety?’ which I don’t think it is,” said Mark Tomblin, founder of consultancy Thinking Unstuck. “That business model’s not going anywhere, so where else can I go?”

But Musk needs to grow X’s user base in order to achieve his ambitions. As Fortune wrote last year, turning Twitter into an everything app requires him to “supersize” the company. “Its business is long-undersized compared to the platform’s presence in culture and politics,” said Fortune.

“That means reaching a lot more people,” said Spencer MacEachern, strategy director at Zulu Alpha Kilo of the switch to X. “New vision, new audience, new brand. Makes sense.”

The implementation leaves something to be desired

But as with so many of Musk’s moves since his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last year, the true motives for his decision to rebrand the platform have been largely overlooked because of how they were implemented..

Nowhere is that more true than in the curious decision to replace the blue bird that has been central to its brand identity since 2012. In fact, it has become so entwined with the brand over the years that Twitter describes it as its “most recognizable asset” on its own “Brand Toolkit” page.

In an X thread on Monday, Mark Grasser, who created the bird logo alongside Todd Waterbury and Angy Che, explained the thought process that went into creating the logo, noting that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey insisted that it should be as good as the Apple and Nike logos. “[W]e really spent our time perfecting every little detail… so that it felt balanced, and visible as a bird at the smallest of sizes,” he said.

It seems like Musk and his team at Twitter/X didn’t employ the same rigour when it came to replacing the bird, leaving many brand strategists and designers flabbergasted. When asked for his initial reaction, John Ounpuu, a partner in B.C.-based marketing consultancy Modern Craft, said it was best summed up by Patrick Stewart’s famous facepalm while playing Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“Like many of the choices Musk has made since acquiring Twitter, it’s hard to make sense of this decision,” he said. “Will it be permanent or temporary or is it simply a passing whim? Does is serve a larger purpose or does he just like pissing people off? Does he actually want the platform to thrive and grow or does he have another agenda?”

From a brand management perspective, he added, it’s a “ridiculous” decision. “But I don’t think [Musk] cares about that. Call it billionaire logic. It’s a mystery.”

Zulu Alpha Kilo’s MacEachern, meanwhile, is struck by the difference in tone conveyed by the two logos. While the blue bird provided a “friendly, cheerful introduction to microblogging,” the new X logo, with its sharp edges and “cyberpunk” aesthetic, feels “menacing” and “very Musk,” and could potentially undermine his aspirations for the platform.

“[I]t’s hard to imagine it translating to the family group chat or casual online shopper,” he said.

So what’s next?

Tomblin said that the hastily undertaken rebrand is “close to insanity,” and that X’s days in its original incarnation as a social media platform beloved by journalists, politicians, etc. are likely numbered. “The minute somebody comes along with something that’s recognizably good, I think Twitter is done as a social media platform,” he said.

Musk, he said, has already “destabilized” Twitter in the nine months since taking it over, and it’s unlikely that it will return to its former guise. “It’s like [if there are] 10 things you should never do to a product and a user base, he’s done them all,” he said.

He described Musk’s most recent actions as “spasmodic,” and theorized that they’re motivated at least in part by rapturous reception to Meta’s would-be X rival, Threads. “He’s desperate to get a punch in,” he said. “He says ‘I’m going to kill the bird, I’m going to kill the colour, and call it X, and now everybody’s going to talk about me again. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that.”

The Message contributor Trevor Thomas, who tends to view marketing and advertising through the lens of popular culture, points to The Simpsons as a potential insight into how Musk’s brain works.

In the “Treehouse of Horror” episode from the show’s sixth season, brand mascots come to life and begin destroying Springfield. Seeking advice from advertising experts, Lisa Simpson is told to simply stop paying attention and they’ll go away.

“Does Elon have a master plan? Has he lost his mind? Is the branding terrible? All irrelevant,” said Thomas. “He understands—better than almost anyone—the value of the true attention economy, and if you want him to stop, all you have to do is stop paying attention.”

As the past two days have showed, that can be easier said than done.

Chris Powell