The Weekend Mumbo: A tweet by any other name…

Another wintery Saturday is upon us.

It’s too cold to fill the esky with drinks and throw the frisbee around the park, so instead you’ve spent the morning using the crock pot to sort the week’s dinners, which you divide into various tupperware conditioners, which have finally replaced those old styrofoam ones you got in the ‘90s. You apply your chapstick, slap a band-aid on a cut from the aforementioned dinner preparation, and start working on that powerpoint for work.

Shakespeare was wrong. There’s a lot in a name. That (admittedly pedestrian) creative writing exercise above was filled with common terms that started out as brand names. Velcro is another. Dumpster. Q-tip. Jacuzzi. To hoover your carpet. To tweet your thoughts.

By renaming Twitter to X, Elon Musk is aggressively unwinding 15 years of brand equity that has resulted in the rarest of feats – a brand name becoming a commonplace word.

To tweet. To retweet.

This style of blind brand reinvention isn’t new in Silicon Valley, and it’s rarely successful. Google rebranded its company as Alphabet in order to highlight its growing suite of products, while Facebook morphed into Meta in an attempt to represent the AR/VR obsessed future of the company’s founder, rather than to continue highlighting the one product that billions of people know the company for.

In any case, we still ‘google’ to find out information. Most media publications outside of the Wall Street Journal still interchangeably refer to ‘Facebook’ when speaking of both the platform and the parent company. Neither rebranding was successful – but neither company intended to completely wipe out the names that made them famous in the first place.

Like a reality TV star, Twitter became famous far before it started making any money. In fact, it wasn’t until the final quarter of 2017, when it already had 330 million monthly users, that the company finally made a profit. In other words, that September, Twitter had roughly 5% of all humans on the planet using it – and was still losing money! During that same quarter, however, the company was worth A$26.5 billion on paper. That’s a massive disconnect between what Twitter is worth, and how much money Twitter makes.

With this metric in mind, Twitter is nothing but name recognition.

To take this away, especially after overpaying to the tune of A$65.5 billion for the company, is madness. It’s a death trap, a suicide rap. It’s also an arrogant folly: people will not stop tweeting, or referring to tweeting, just because the owner changed the logo, and said the brand is over (via a message that the press referred to as a tweet, while reporting it). People will keep tweeting, that’s for sure. They certainly won’t be ‘x-ing’ or ‘checking out X’. Linguistically, it doesn’t scan; visually, it’s confusing; poetically, it sounds too harsh and scratchy for what it describes.

The letter also has the obvious sexual connotations that will turn off all but the types of puerile minds that think naming the first four Tesla models S 3 X Y – in that order – is somewhat funny or edgy. (This is actually what Musk did, lest you think it’s a joke or a coincidence.)

Of course, we can’t discount the fact that Musk didn’t build Twitter, he bought it, and therefore he has no real connection to the branding. In fact, given his stated masterplan to transition Twitter into his oft-touted ‘everything app’, he may see the ubiquity of the Twitter name as an albatross of sorts.

The tone of the below tweet (sorry: the below X) certainly suggests a man who wants to go bird hunting.

“And soon we shall bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds”, Musk tweeted shortly before changing the name.

This might explain his motives clearer. He needs to kill Twitter, because he is obsessed with building X. Twitter has ‘good bones’, as they say in the house flipping business.

Musk has been trying to make the X brand stick for 24 years now.

Biographer Walter Isaacson, who has written hefty tomes about Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, has a new book about Elon Musk coming out on September 11 (try not to read into that release date). The book shows how Musk fought tooth and nail to rebrand PayPal as x.com in 1999, shortly after he bought the domain name.

“Musk insisted that the company’s name should be X.com, with PayPal as merely one of its subsidiary brands,” Isaacson writes. “He even tried to rebrand the payment system X-PayPal. There was a lot of pushback. PayPal had become a trusted brand name, like a good pal who is helping you get paid. Focus groups showed that the name X.com, on the contrary, conjured up visions of a seedy site you would not talk about in polite company. But Musk was unwavering, and remains so to this day.

“‘If you want to just be a niche payment system, PayPal is better,’ he said. ‘But if you want to take over the world’s financial system, then X is the better name’.”

So, Musk was warned in 1999 of the stupidity of losing a trusted brand name.

He didn’t listen then, either. The dispute saw him ousted as CEO. That’s how much he was willing to go to the mat for x.com.

After PayPal, he then launched SpaceX, and the Tesla Model X. He bought back x.com – which fell into the hands of PayPal when he left the company – for millions in 2017. He even named his child ‘X’ – the least surprising move he’s made to date.

Isaacson notes later in his book that Musk tweeted him out of the blue at 3.30am one morning before buying Twitter, writing: “I am very excited about finally implementing X.com as it should have been done, using Twitter as an accelerant!”

He messaged again. “And, hopefully, helping democracy and civil discourse while doing so.”

According to Isaacson, Musk said that he would “turn it into the combination of financial platform and social network he had envisioned twenty-four years earlier for X.com.”

Musk is the richest man in the world. He won’t stop, and he doesn’t need to.

So, say what you will about the hubris of taking an internationally recognised brand and gutting for your own designs, but it’s hard to fault someone making moves to fulfil a personal dream that has laid dormant for a quarter-century.

A dream he was willing to leave a high-paying CEO job of a fast-rising company he built to protect.

Even if it seems like watching a slow-motion (driverless) car crash at the moment, it might work out for Elon. He has achieved big things before. So have others. After all, there have been big, successful rebrands in the past.

Muhammad Ali was once Cassius Clay.

KFC used to have the word ‘fried’ in it, before this became too unhealthy.

And Elon Musk used to look like this.

Good luck, Elon. It’s a big move. Hope you x the absolute x outta it. We’ll be x-ing.

The rest of the week

Buzz surrounding the FIFA Women’s World Cup continues and so does the brand play opportunity for every man (or woman) and their dog. By far the most compelling to date has been PUMA’s incredible staging of a rematch between the first Australian and New Zealand women’s football teams. A visually stunning pitch was created on Cockatoo Island for the historic event. It was truly something to behold.

Also quite colourful was television host Osher Gunsberg’s plea with caterers at tomorrow night’s TV WEEK Logie Awards to offer him and fellow vegans a slightly more imaginative menu option then just another boring veggie stack. Gunsberg told Dr Mumbo that “wet rice pretending to be risotto” also doesn’t count. In breaking news, we can reveal that chefs at The Star have heard his hungry pleas and will have a dish fit for a plant-loving king.

And finally, my colleague Lauren McNamara went on a very important and totally legitimate fact-finding mission to Splendour in the Grass to investigate the sponsorship and branding activations in what must surely be the best junket of the year, so far. Lauren wrote two cracking yarns about her weekend away – one on the marketing takeaways from the event and another on the new sponsors organisers bagged. Good on her.

Have a great weekend.


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