Elon Musk’s Twitter coup is Musk’s best move of the Musk brand


When the news broke that Elon Musk had bought 9.2% of Twitter for just under $3 billion, the first statement from the Tesla CEO – one of Twitter’s most popular and prolific users – was a dizzying, perfunctory tweet: ” Oh hey lol.”

The social platform’s stock, meanwhile, is up 27%. That’s the musky effect. His mere presence within Twitter’s ownership structure was enough to bolster confidence in the power of not just the social platform’s product potential, but more importantly its brand. The little blue bird is now officially linked to Musk, a person who has used tweeting as his primary tool to generate more financial gain than anyone else on earth.

Since its inception in 2003, Tesla has notoriously budgeted around zero for traditional advertising, relying heavily on the earned media Musk has raked in through the news media and, more recently, his antics and insights on Twitter. That approach has helped the electric-car maker join the trillion-dollar market-cap club, a valuation nearly 10 times the combined market cap of Ford, GM, and Chrysler, all of which spend billions on advertising. Maybe Ford CEO Jim Farley will cause a lot of laughs (the late SNL Actor Chris Farley is a cousin), but his Twitter feed is almost entirely about Ford. He hasn’t launched an altcoin cryptocurrency to promote it to his followers. To my knowledge, he has insulted exactly zero US senators. Musk’s personal brand is so strong that he turned Dogecoin, which started out as a hoax cryptocurrency, into a . . . Well, it’s still a joke, although some early adopters have benefited from its attention.

Musk’s recent move to become the largest single shareholder of his favorite megaphone will have a significant impact on the brand equity of Twitter, Tesla, and his own personal brand.

For Twitter, that brand impact depends on how Musk’s innovation-by-Twitter poll approach works and whether he actually changes the platform for the better. Maybe it’s the edit button! But if it is, you’re already hallucinating about what a horrible idea an edit button might be. Or maybe this is the first step on a longer journey toward decentralized social media advocated by Musk, Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, and current Twitter CEO (for now, at least) Parag Agrawal. Again, that’s the sort of thing that sounds great at say 4:20 but might not hold up when executed.

Tesla also finds itself in a vulnerable position given how closely tied its brand is to that of its market leader. I had suggested years ago that the company maaay wants to slowly begin to lay the foundation for and expand its own brand independent of Musk. Balancing the public image of an inspirational CEO with one’s iconic brand endorsement can be a driving force behind brand growth, as Apple’s story can attest. Of course, we’re talking about a founder who suggested the acronym for public his favorite federal agency stands for fellatiowith little to no impact on its brands, so you know, uncharted waters.

When it comes to Musk, the guy was essentially bulletproof in the brand context. He just joined the Twitter board, but he’s already the CEO of a $1 trillion auto company [checks notes] three other jobs: CEO of an aerospace company, CEO of a computer brain interface company, and majority owner of a municipal tunneling company. In these roles, he navigates through the following scandals: The car company is facing court proceedings over a deeply racist work cultureand its autonomous driving system has reportedly caused dead on the streets since the technique is publicly worked. City tunneling company Boring Company is regularly ridiculed for its failings when it comes to safety what it really brings. And his brain interface company, Neuralink was charged Torturing animals in ways that have not been accepted in scientific circles for decades. This isn’t even a complete list of musk scandals! By now we’re all talking about an edit button here?!?

That is the point. That’s the power Musk already wields — over this platform and culture at large. It’s a testament to how he’s used Twitter to build unwavering trust with his customers, investors, and admirers. He’s already constructed a free media flywheel around his Twitter presence: write something provocative, absurd, or insightful; trigger a wave of reporting; rinse and repeat. That flywheel will only spin faster because Twitter’s cultural footprint dwarfs its electric car. At its core, this new Musk story is about a very vocal and powerful individual struggling to protect his greatest brand — and brand-building asset. As we dance around the feature gimmick Musk dangles in front of us, it all adds to his brand image and, arguably, that of his companies as well. It’s the most musky of all Musk moves.

The only way this move will be detrimental to Musk and his brand is if a) the SEC goes completely scorched earth and somehow forces him to stop tweeting. (Based on the enforcement track record to date, which seems very unlikely). Or b) longer term, Twitter decentralization or some other Musk-led change takes Twitter beyond a thorny screaming landscape to an even more dangerous weapon that can be tied to a specific, horrifying event or issue. His very personal take on what the 2016 election did for Mark Zuckerberg.

But if everything goes wrong on Twitter, Musk will most likely run off with his personal brand under his arm while the social network explodes in a fireball in the distance and Musk confidently strides forward like he’s the star of a Michael Bay movie. He tweets something to the effect, “Well, they didn’t listen to me and all my great ideas” — in the lingua franca of a popular meme, of course — along with a Twitter poll asking him to give up his seat or sell its shares, even if that has actually already happened and the nod to democracy (or mob rule, depending on your point of view) is just another accomplishment.

Marketers talk about it all the time and try to make their brands part of the culture. By those standards, Musk is one of the largest in the world. Do you remember the Cybertruck event 2019? When Musk threw a rock at the window? Musk’s purchase of Twitter could very well result in a first significant crack in its reputation, but if recent precedent is any indication, it will actually only add to its already impressive brand armor. Elon Musk’s Twitter coup is Musk’s best move of the Musk brand


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