Elon Musk, tech entrepreneur turned owner and Chief Technology Officer of Twitter, surprised the whole world with his disruptive takeover in October last year, an occasion which Musk commemorated with the click-baiting tweet, “the bird is freed”. Fast-forward to July 2023, and Musk has caught us all off guard yet again, this time by radically rebranding the iconic platform’s name to ‘X’, complete with monochromatic branding, to announce a new era.
Musk’s rebrand has created both widespread discussion and outright confusion. Some users reportedly feel alienated by the platform’s new identity, with die-hard Twitter fans (and Cogent colleagues) choosing to stick with the platform’s previous name. Some have speculated that this could be the first step in a new evolution for Twitter – sorry, X – with a long-term plan in place, i.e. repackaging itself into an ‘everything app’ with a wealth of functionalities – such as banking and food delivery – and moving away from the singular communications platform it is today.
So, what is ‘X’ really about? Is it merely a product of Musk’s fascination with a letter? Or a tease to a more carefully calculated plan?
According to Twitter’s CEO Linda Yaccarino, “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities. Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine.”
For now, the platform’s rebrand is little more than a name change, (let’s be real, it’s going to take a while for us all to get used to it!), but one that represents something far more merciless to countless former tweeters: a metaphorical axe to the head of the iconic blue Twitter bird, which holds years of brand recognition, deeply ingrained in popular culture.
Analysts and experts have estimated that this act alone has contributed significantly to the business’s recent decline in value. The brand equity – and mental shortcuts – built up through the bird logo, brand colour, name, and even the verb ‘to tweet’ (recognised in the Oxford English Dictionary 10 years ago) – were the envy not just of social media brands, but brands in all categories. Twitter was among the lauded few whose brand or associated terms have become verbs used in common parlance in languages the world over (to Google, to Hoover, to Tipp-ex, to Sellotape, to Whatsapp) – a brand superstrength that has been removed overnight. Some of the impact seems lost if news outlets will now report that Donald Trump X’d about ‘constant negative press covfefe’.
Do any of us know what we’re supposed to say instead? The answer seems to be no – and in situations like this we revert to what feels familiar – we’re still referring to ‘tweeting’. Which makes the whole thing even more confusing.
But let’s take emotion out of the equation for a second. It certainly feels too early to judge whether the rebrand will be a complete fiasco, and as we all know Musk likes to create hype through disruption, before being redeemed by the popularity of his offering, like we saw with Tesla.
According to Paul Woodward, lead motion designer at AnalogFolk, the rebrand “feels messy and thoughtless. The concept of Twitter with its ‘tweets’ felt clever and considered. X is anything but”, which just about sums up how most users feel, not to mention countless marketers and comms professionals. Twitter has long been a key building block in many social strategies, but the rebrand and Twitter Blue has only added further uncertainty around a social platform that’s been going through a major identity crisis since its new owner took over. The X-shaped face lift further reduces the platform’s credibility in marketing circles.
However, let’s not forget Musk wasn’t the first to attempt a radical rebrand. And while often company revamps initially shock, they soon become the norm.
Back in the early ‘90s, Mars renamed the Marathon chocolate bar to Snickers (not that my parents have realised!), while the exotically-named Opal Fruits became the more colourful Starburst. Coco Pops was less successful with its rebrand. More recently, Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to Meta to reflect the company’s growing ambitions beyond social media and expansion into the Metaverse.
So, how do we think Twitter will fare?
Some could argue that transformational change was due for Twitter anyway. After all, some would argue the platform had already been on a steady decline before Musk’s takeover and is now facing direct competition in the form of Meta’s new social platform, Threads.
We can agree that complete brand overhaul is a risky strategy, but one that could still potentially pay off if the company’s ‘everything app’ plans come to fruition. James Kirkham, chief executive at Iconic adds, “Musk’s ambition to create a super app where we spend time messaging, making payments, and ordering pizza is surely a valid goal. We all want a one-touch frictionless life”.
It’s not as unfathomable as we might think. In 2021, TikTok launched TikTok Shop in the UK – a marketplace, much like Instagram Shop and Facebook Marketplace – transforming TikTok from an entertainment platform to a one-stop shopping app, for both brands and consumers to enjoy. The ‘TikTok made me buy it’ phenomenon saw an array of products fly off the digital shelves and so far, is a successful example of how an amusement app can reinvent itself in clever ways. Perhaps this strategy will pay off for Musk as well, helping X to stay relevant in the competitive market.
Overall, despite what people may think of Musk’s messy rebrand, it has undeniably drawn lots of attention – and as they say (unless you are Gerald Ratner), all PR is good PR. We can’t help but question if this was the strategy all along. Maybe the iconic blue bird will rise from its own ashes as a reborn phoenix, setting the social sphere alight as Musk presses on with his plans to create the ‘everything app’ we didn’t know we so badly needed. Only time will tell.
By Francesca Cooke - Social & PR Account Manager