Twitter > X — the worst rebrand of all time

Caelan Huntress
5 min readAug 7, 2023

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The world’s richest man wrecked one of the world’s most beloved brands.

How it started / How it’s going by Midjourney

“My first reaction was, ‘Is this a joke?’…Honestly, I think it’s idiotic,” said Matt Egan, managing director of strategy at brand experience firm Siegel+Gale. “From a branding point of view and a marketing point of view, it just seems like a crazy idea.”

​According to Bloomberg, this move may have discarded between $4 billion and $20 billion of brand value.

The word ‘tweet’ is an eponym. When the name of your product is used to define your category (like Band-aid, Kleenex, or Sharpie) you have earned the holy grail of branding.

Elon Musk threw this away, to pursue his White Whale: X.

Captain Musk by Midjourney

The story of Musk’s obsession with the X brand is fascinating. John Bull shares the history of Elon Musk and X in this excellent post. Here is the TL;DR –

  • Elon owned X.com when Peter Thiel ran Confinity, which became PayPal
  • Payments-by-email was a found product on both teams
  • The two companies decided to merge rather than exhaust each other by competing
  • Elon tried to rebrand PayPal to X, changing the logo and domain URL, and retire the PayPal brand
  • Focus groups and other company leaders were unanimous in their dislike of the new brand
  • The rest of the board of directors held an emergency meeting by phone, while he was in the air flying to his honeymoon, and removed him as CEO
The worst honeymoon of all time, by Midjourney

X is the great idea the got away, according to Elon.

Buying Twitter gave him a chance to remake a global brand into X, which he tried (and failed) to do more than twenty years ago. Knowing this history gives a crucial insight into his motivations.

When he first bought Twitter, it was chaos.

It’s been chaos ever since. I’ve been staying on Twitter to watch the dumpster fire, because it’s fun, and interesting, and a landmark time in the history of the internet.

People have been sharing hot takes left and right, and some former employees have opened up to candidly share their experiences.

Twitter didn’t have the @X handle, so they just…took it.

This ad from the German branch of the World Wildlife Foundation says, “Protect our wildlife, before it’s too late.”

hat tip to Greg Isenberg

Thousands of brands have willingly shared an adorable blue bird on their websites, their social media graphics, and their print collaterals.

Everyone who has a Twitter logo on their marketing materials will be faced with a choice:

a) Change the Twitter logo to X, or

b) Remove the Twitter logo and don’t replace it with anything

Businesses and consumers will want to stay away from this mess.

Even the sign on the building turned into a big issue. They didn’t have a permit to take the Twitter sign down, so the cops shut it down. They left it for a few days, and installed a huge, strobe light X on the roof.

There’s a lot of meta-shade in this tweet:

found here on twitter (not x)

This level of meta-commentary is one of the things that people love about Twitter. This interaction of ideas is very different from facilitating payments.

“Most people as users feel kind of burned by this,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at marketing agency MBLM. “On the other side, though, I think Musk is playing for a bigger prize. He understands what he bought and what was left of it isn’t going to get him to where he wants to go.”

This is what I find really interesting: he might pull this off.

My hunch: there is something happening soon, geopolitically, which would make his positioning as the ‘financial everything app’ look like a prescient move.

However, I don’t think this is the right way to go about it. If he had copied Threads — ironically, a Twitter clone — he could have started a NEW app, with the opportunity to import your social graph. This new app could have gained a smaller, dedicated following. But all the people who love the Twitter brand have been sidelined.

This is how a rich South African handles change — forces it on everyone, and ignores anyone with grievances. For niche, high-end products (like electric cars or rocket ships) this strategy could work well. But for a consumer app, on a freemium model, this was a terrible mistake.

The things that people love about Twitter — short, text-based posting with anonymous crowds and kooky alts — is not the same use-case as financial transactions. Different audiences, different purposes, different apps.

The other function of Twitter is: breaking news. There is currently a race to see if superconductors have been discovered. The news broke last week, and materials scientists from around the world are attempting to replicate the results, and livestreaming what could be the most major physics breakthrough in a century.

Are we sacrificing this immediate, global town square, to facilitate x-payments?

What do you think? Will you call them Xeets? Will you keep the bird app on your phone and refuse to upgrade? Tweet me, or Thread me (on mobile), and tag me in a post that either says:

➤ I will only tweet

or

➤ Xeets are inevitable

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Caelan Huntress

I help busy professionals transform their performance, maximize their impact, and create exceptional experiences. I wrote the book on Marketing Yourself.