It wasn’t that long ago that Elon Musk was struggling to survive. Back in 2008, Tesla had him on the verge of bankruptcy. But the car owners loved the cars, even if they didn’t love the missed delivery dates. And SpaceX had a customer base of one, the U.S. government. Still, it appears the government loved Musk’s rocket ships, their reliability, and their solid engineering.
Here’s the thing, Twitter only has two customers. It has advertisers, yes of course. But the advertisers have no philosophical alignment with Twitter, any more than they are aligned with NBC or The New York Times or YouTube. Their needs are measurable, and their budgets have pretty definable objectives. They want to be efficient, meaning to reach audiences at the lowest cost possible, and they don’t want to be near anything that could align their clients with controversy.
When I was selling advertising, the phrase was “a clean, well-lit space” -- and, as someone once explained it to
me, “The Donna Reed Show," “only even more squeaky clean." No client ever says to their agency, “Can you put me near content that is controversial, and likely to align us with
divisive and uncomfortable topics?” That happens absolutely NEVER.
A far from complete list of advertisers who “paused” campaigns on Twitter: L'Oreal, General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, Pfizer, General Mills, Apple, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, Capital One, CBS, CenturyLink, Comcast, Disney, Google, HBO, IBM, Merck, Meta, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Verizon.
Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, wrote (on Twitter): “If Twitter wants to keep the ad $ flowing then they’re going to need access to even more data and targeting… Twitter’s investments and prioritization of trusted brands, higher quality media, and commitment to moderation is precisely what made advertisers comfortable investing their budgets and even more so trusting their brands in an environment built mostly on user-generated content."
And with that, Kint hits the nail on the head: “Ultimately he’s causing chaos without any clear public message…I cut Musk slack for disruption but not the strategy fail. The problem is no one around him seems to understand media so they’re engineering a platform directly at odds with the future and twitter’s advertising clients. This is a spiral of death by chasing old models. Bye.”
Musk has been reaching out to advertisers, trying to build trust with a few Zoom calls. Lou Paskalis, the president of the trade group Mobile Marketing Association, comprised of over 800 members including Amazon, AT&T, and GM, was on one of the calls. Afterward, Paskalis tweeted: "Elon, Great chat yesterday, As you heard overwhelmingly from senior advertisers on the call, the issue concerning us all is content moderation and its impact on BRAND SAFETY/SUITABILITY. You say you’re committed to moderation, but you just laid off 75% of the moderation team!"
But it appears t Musk isn’t listening. Instead, he’s embarking on a “thermonuclear name & shame” campaign to try and force advertisers back onto the platform to support “free speech.” Can anyone name a time when that plan has ever worked?