Elon Musk’s abrupt decision to do away with Twitter’s iconic blue bird and rebrand as “X” erased one of social media’s most recognizable brands overnight and potentially killed billions in brand value, but marketing and branding experts told SME the unconventional and seemingly reckless strategy signals the start of Musk’s promised “everything app” and could have more to it than meets the eye.
The Key Facts
Musk’s Twitter rebrand is an “exceptionally risky move” as it jettisons 15 years of brand value and forces him to build a new brand from scratch, Forrester vice president and research director Mike Proulx told SME, a task he said is “no small feat.”
That brand value diminished since Musk’s takeover but was far from insignificant, Robert Haigh, director of brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance told SME, noting that Twitter was still a multi-billion-dollar brand at the time Musk pivoted to “X,” much of which could have been saved with a “carefully managed” migration plan.
Musk’s “rapid abandonment” of Twitter without a clear plan in place “almost certainly” destroyed a good deal of brand value, Haigh echoed, noting that the billionaire could have learned a lot from Mark Zuckerberg’s careful introduction of Meta.
Experts in branding and marketing said it’s probably best to make a complete break with Twitter, and the bird-based baggage that comes along with its brand. SME, a sort of symbolic sacrifice to wipe the slate clean and set the stage for the “everything app,” X, Musk wants to build.
It’s likely there is more to Twitter’s rapid revamp than meets the eye, Sam Ashken, a senior strategy director at brand consultancy Interbrand, told SME, noting that Musk is one of the “most skillful manipulators of social media in the world” for whom “outrage and apparent recklessness is often part of the point.”
Vicky Bullen, chief executive of branding and design agency Coley Porter Bell, concurred and said that while Musk’s “odd” approach “seems reckless on the surface,” it has achieved what many brands take months to do “virtually overnight.”
Musk teased his decision to replace Twitter’s iconic bird—Larry—and other branding linked to the platform with “X” over the weekend and rapidly got underway on Monday. The change was unsurprising—Musk has been open about his ambition to build an “everything app” like China’s WeChat and has already changed the business name to X Corp—but it was sudden. The new logo, a stylized white “X” on a black background, was unconventionally crowdsourced from his followers on the platform, which replaced profile images on Twitter’s official accounts and was projected onto the company’s headquarters. Efforts to remove the Twitter sign outside the company’s San Francisco headquarters were stymied by police, reportedly after the crane being used blocked the street.
What We Don’t Know
Musk said the decision to rebrand Twitter into “X” fits within his wider vision of building an “everything app.” Such superapps—virtual Swiss army knives that combine the functionality of multiple apps like ride hailing, food delivery, payments, investing and messaging—are immensely popular in parts of Asia but largely absent in the West and Musk hopes to plug the gap. So far, Musk has crowdsourced a logo and changed the company name, Bullen said, “but a logo doth not a rebrand make.” It’s not clear what else Musk is actually hoping to change or what he will implement that will differentiate “X” from Twitter in more than just name and look.
The rebrand will “start to look a bit smart” if X quickly starts adding features that were completely absent on Twitter, Ashken said. This would leave rivals like Instagram’s Threads behind and in a completely different category. “But if it’s basically Twitter with no radically new non tweet type features like banking or mobile payments, then I think then I think it starts to look like a real branding dud.”
Twitter’s advertising revenue has dwindled under Musk’s leadership, in part due to widespread concerns over his controversial position on free speech and content moderation and changes to the platform’s verification system. The sunsetting of valuable assets associated with Twitter—such as Larry the bird and the word tweet—suggests the “team at “X” expect that the new opportunities opened up by the rebranding will far surpass these losses,” Graham Staplehurst, global director at research firm Kantar, told SME. These opportunities may not all be in advertising, Staplehurst said, explaining that as a superapp, X “opens opportunities to be much more than an advertising-funded platform.” This could be a good thing for the company, said Jane Ostler, Kantar’s executive vice president for global thought leadership, who warned the rebrand might “create even more uncertainty for advertisers.”
What to Watch for
It’s unconventional for a company to rebrand itself in the manner Musk has done and the rapid switch to “X” may raise a host of legal issues for the platform’s billionaire owner. Pinsent Masons intellectual-property lawyer Matthew Harris stated SME it could be hard for Musk to obtain the trademarks he would need to defend the brand, particularly given the potential conflicts with brands already using the letter “X.” Even if Musk does manage to obtain trade mark registration, he would likely encounter difficulty enforcing it against other brands with a similar name. According to Reuters, the letter “X” is widely used and cited in hundreds of trademarks, including those owned by Meta and Microsoft.
$242 billion. That’s how much SMEOur real-time tracker estimates Musk’s worth. The top spot is occupied by Musk. SME’ list of the world’s richest people, leading French luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault by around $8billion and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by around $90 billion. Musk is mostly wealthy because of his shares in Tesla electric cars and the companies he has co-founded. These include rocket firm SpaceX and brain implant company Neuralink. Musk controversially purchased Twitter in 2022 for $44 billion.
Meta is the new Twitter name, and it’s owned by Microsoft as well as hundreds of other trademarks (Reuters).
Twitter Logo: Elon Musk Replaces Bird With ‘X’ In Rebrand (SME)