Hail Mary Pass: Musk Touts Brand Safety, Prays Brands Return To X

CANNES, France -- In a frank, freewheeling conversation with WPP chief Mark Read here today, Elon Musk made a pitch for big brand marketers to return to X, citing its "brand safety," but oddly touting it more as a B2B marketing platform capable of reaching Silicon Valley elites like Salesforce's Marc Benioff, computer maker Michael Dell and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen than a mass marketing medium.

Prompted by Read, he also implied that many, if not all, of the audience attending the "Festival of Creativity" might be out of a job soon, as rapid advances in AI will eventually enable the technology to do a better job of being creative and original than people can.

"There really is no future for any of us in this room," WPP's Read quipped.

"I mean, I don't want to be a downer," Musk replied, followed by a long pause, an "um," and then tossing a positive bone about how AI will be able to "enhance human intelligence."

The conversation touched on existential concerns going well beyond the ad industry to the very nature of humanity itself, including some potentially dystopian scenarios.

Asked by Read to give a time frame, Musk replied, “I think it is going to change things very fast. I think you will see quite radical changes even in the next year. And very, very radical changes over five years."

He talked about the goal of his Neuralink brain chip startup facilitating "human/AI symbiosis," and estimated there was an 80% chance that AI would prove to be positive for humanity, but that there was a 20% chance of something "terrible happening."

"The worst case scenario is we’re going to be annihilated," he said, adding, "Would I want to be around to see it? I’m like, ‘Probably yes.’ Okay, so fatalism.”

Even his positive scenario predictions came with existential concerns, including that advances in AI and robotics will usher in an "age of abundance," in which people no longer have to work because they will receive not just universal basic incomes, but "universal high incomes," and everyone will have access to all the goods and services they need.

"This may sound great, but I think there will perhaps be a crisis of meaning," Musk told the audience, adding: "If the AI can do the thing you can do better, then what is the point of doing things? So I think there will be a bit of an existential crisis of why do anything?"

While that also was yet another existentially concerning prompt for an industry premised on the art of persuasion and creating demand for goods and services, Musk cited multiple science fiction literary examples -- including the works of authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Douglas Adams, and George Lucas' "Star Wars" -- as historical references for how those imagined technologies will prove out in the real world.

In one of the interview's most telling moments, WPP's Read asked Musk how is own AI chatbot Grok was doing. This was followed by a pensive, 10-second pause in which Musk seemed to be contemplating, but then quickly switched the topic to a more general discussion about AI, including how TikTok has been using the tech to innovate social media's ability to match the interest of users with content, and how both Meta and X have been copying that.

He spoke about rapid advances in AI being used to generate high-quality images, and how it is starting to do the same for video.

While he never answered Read's question about Grok, it is well known in AI circles that Musk is not happy with the results it has generated for him, because while his engineers trained it to "be honest," it rarely agrees with him personally -- especially about political or broad societal matters -- and there has even been talk about him modifying its protocol related to that.

Musk also repeated his refrain that old-school journalism will be mostly replaced by AI "aggregating" the wisdom of social media users, which in his view will be a superior form of news helping people stay informed.

“I think, for the most part, that will be better than conventional journalism," he said.

Asked by Read what case he would make for big brand advertisers to resume advertising on X, Musk cited improvements in the platforms "brand safety," then oddly emphasized its ability to precision target elite people "actually running companies, running countries" and "the intellectuals of the world," adding, "the people who are right."

“I mean, if somebody were trying to reach me with an ad, that would absolutely be the palace to run the ad," he said.

4 comments about "Hail Mary Pass: Musk Touts Brand Safety, Prays Brands Return To X".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, June 19, 2024 at 1:11 p.m.

    About as toxic as I'd expect. 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 19, 2024 at 2:14 p.m.

    So, what did Linda have to say about "X" at Cannes. Joe?

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, June 19, 2024 at 7:31 p.m.

    I loved the comment "old-school journalism will be mostly replaced by AI "aggregating" the wisdom of social media users, which in his view will be a superior form of news helping people stay informed."

    I suggest that the new generation news medium relying on the wisdom of social media users be called "The Lemming".

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 20, 2024 at 6:56 a.m.

    Or, maybe, "The X Factor", John.

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