Brands in the News

The Twitter Branding Debacle

25 Jul 2023  

It has been a remarkable week in the world of branding, as Twitter rolls out one of the strangest rebranding efforts that I have ever seen.

I suspect it will go down in history as an example of poor strategic brand management.

The Announcement

On Sunday, Elon Musk announced that the Twitter brand was going away. That evening, he wrote, “Soon we shall bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually all the birds.”

Instead, Musk said, Twitter will now become X.

Now this might all be a stunt of some sort (after the M&Ms Super Bowl fiasco I’ve lost all trust in what companies say), but it appears to be real. A visit to the website formerly known as Twitter shows that, indeed, the Twitter brand is gone, replaced by X.

The Problems

So why is this a bad idea? Let us count the ways.

1. Twitter is abandoning a global brand

Building a brand is a challenge, especially in our cluttered world. It isn’t easy to make people aware of a brand. It is even harder to define that brand in a precise way.

So why would Twitter abandon Twitter? I don’t know.

Sometimes brands need to adopt new names. ValuJet gave up on its brand after a terrible plane crash in Florida and a series of safely issues. ValuJet came to mean dangerous, and in the world of airlines that is a damaging association. So, ValuJet became AirTran. Comcast, a brand firmly associated with cable television and poor service, adopted the Xfinity brand.

Was Twitter particularly troubled? I haven’t done a brand equity study on it, but the most polarizing thing about Twitter might be Elon Musk, and he doesn’t appear to be leaving.

2. There is no transition plan

If you are going to rebrand a product or service, it is best to have a well-developed plan. It is important to let current customers and fans know what is happening, so they follow along. A hard cut can create unhappiness and confusion.

Macy’s, for example, rebranded a series of regional department store chains with a step-by-step process and encountered little criticism. Only the hard cut in Chicago caused problems; when the company abruptly replaced the Marshall Field’s brand with Macy’s, people in Chicago were furious.

Twitter has no apparent plan to phase in this rebranding.

3. The new brand has no meaning.

Great brands have clear associations; they stand for something specific. Nike is associated with athletic achievement. Tiffany is elegant. Rolex is a curious and powerful mix of luxury and adventure. Trader Joes is a combination of fun, quality, and value.

What is this new brand called X? We have no idea. Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino posted Sunday that it was a mix of audio, video, messaging, and banking; “X will be the platform that can deliver, well…everything.”


Previously, Musk said that he wanted Twitter to become an everything app. With this he ignores one of the great marketing lessons that a brand cannot be all things to all people.

4. It isn’t clear how this creates value.

The downsides in this shift are pretty clear; it creates confusion and will be costly. But the upsides justify the move, surely.

Only they don’t seem to. How exactly does this make things better for Twitter?

If you segment people into Twitter fans and Twitter detractors, there is clearly no upside. The fans will be confused or disappointed that the brand is going away. It is hard to rally around X. The detractors won’t now be won over. You won’t hear many people saying this week, “I never really liked Twitter, but I’m loving X.” There is only downside.

CEO Yaccarino wrote Sunday that “It’s an exceptionally rare thing—in life or in business—that you get a second chance to make another big impression.”

She is correct, of course. But this statement doesn’t apply to the Twitter situation. The platform isn’t changing. People who are interested in X will visit the site and see, well, the old Twitter. The product hasn’t changed.

If you want to create a new brand, the easy part is coming up with a logo. The hard part is getting the product right. In this case, it seems Musk is rolling out the new name without first improving the product. That isn’t a winning formula.

The Outlook

Twitter has struggled for many years, and since Elon Musk took over the brand has been in a free-fall as advertisers flee.

There could be some grand strategy at work here, but it certainly isn’t obvious what it is.

This might be the end of Twitter.

In the world of healthcare, sepsis is sometimes called the common pathway of death. When someone gets very sick, the thing that ultimately kills them isn’t the initial illness, it is sepsis.

In the world of marketing, repositioning and rebranding can also be called the common pathway of death. A struggling brand embarks on a big repositioning move in a desperate bid to improve results. In the process, it loses its remaining customers and fails to attract news ones. It eventually collapses.

That seems to be what are looking at here.

15 Responses

  1. A says:

    I’m curious Professor Calkins, would you say that this branding debacle stands true?

  2. Chris Carter says:

    In the ever-evolving landscape of business and branding, it is evident that brand innovation necessitates radical change to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. The key to sustained success lies in challenging traditional norms, pushing boundaries, and daring to take bold steps. While notable figures like Elon Musk have achieved remarkable accomplishments, let us focus on the broader concept of innovation rather than a specific individual.

    “X,” the brand you mentioned, possesses the potential to become a prevailing media giant over the next decade, transcending the limitations of existing incumbents. However, for this vision to materialize, it is imperative to recognize that radical change is the driving force behind brand evolution. In the rapidly transforming world of technology and consumer behavior, clinging to outdated practices or being confined by existing frameworks will hinder growth and progress.

    The Twitter brand, though influential, might pose challenges in the pursuit of this brand’s full potential. To surpass the limitations imposed by the status quo, “X” must carve its unique path by fostering originality, adopting cutting-edge technologies, and redefining the ways media brands interact with their audience.

    It is vital to break away from partisan perspectives and instead concentrate on the essence of innovation. By embracing radical change and shunning complacency, “X” can usher in a new era of media branding that captivates global audiences and disrupts the traditional hierarchy. So, let us observe and support the unfolding of “X’s” journey with anticipation, and may it inspire others to embrace change and redefine the future of branding in their own right.

    In short, we have taken too much tomato out of the “media” ketchup Prof. Calkins 🙂

  3. Tom H says:

    Tim- the one piece that strikes me as most distinct in this situation is: Elon generates an unprecedented level of press about this rebrand. We’re all talking about it on this post, after all. Ordinarily, I’d say a rigorous brand plan and ad spend would be completely necessary for a company that needs those marketing channels to spread the word/ gain impressions. But Elon’s track record in product innovation (e.g., bringing software to cars at a level never seen) and brand strength (e.g., making electric cars trendy after decades of failed attempts) suggest to me a foresight that may still be mysterious to us, but thoughtful nonetheless.

    One analog I’d be curious for your thoughts on is: Facebook’s transition to “Meta.” Do we believe that’s proven out over time? (Understanding that “Facebook” is not abandoned as a single product brand).

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Tom—Yes…perhaps there is some plan that isn’t obvious. Elon does have quite a track record! I think adding the Meta brand hasn’t done a lot aside from creating some confusion, at least so far. The big positive is that Meta is clearly more than just Facebook.

  4. Bill McKenney says:


    Nice analysis above. But I think in this case it’s relevant to go beyond the marketing and parse the “why’s” a little more.

    Before this week, the Twitter brand and the bird icon were probably the company’s most valuable assets. Without the core branding assets, the product is just a generic global chat room, appropriately brand X. Clearly abandoning these assets was an emotional, not a marketing or financial driven decision.

    We know from public comments that Twitter’s current owner carried great animosity toward the company before purchasing it. If that is what motivated him to buy the company, it is fair to assume that the decision to kill the company’s brand, its most valuable asset, is driven by that animosity. Put bluntly, he killed what haunted him.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Bill—Great take on this. Amazing that someone would intentionally do that sort of financial damage. But I guess when you have billions and billions it doesn’t matter.

  5. Angela Lee says:

    X is just a bad brand name for many reasons. People have mostly non-positive associations with “X” — people use X as a placeholder for something that will be defined later; they use X as proxies for vulgar language that need to be bleeped out; while some people use xoxo for love and kisses, they don’t use XOXO. People X something out when they don’t want it…

  6. John Richardson says:

    Musk is a narcissist who wants to be bigger than his companies. He got in early several times and it is fair to say that Musk is more famous than SpaceX or even Tesla. Bit that would never happen with Twitter. So he killed the famous brand name and logo on order to slater his ego all over the company. He will sorta succeed but only in the sense that X will come to symbolize how an egotist who doesn’t understand the business he barged into managed to kill a once famous if not quite thriving brand.

  7. Anshuman Vora says:

    Concluding remarks seem to be far-fetched.

    Even a professor can’t be prophetic.

  8. Per Ohstrom says:

    Musk is idiosyncratic in many ways, recall his real time pricing experiments earlier on Twitter. The new logo is also terrible, it looks black and menacing, kind of like the old Uber logo, and gives associations to cinematic x-rating.. This in stark contrast to the previous cute blue bird tweeting away…

    • Per Ohstrom says:

      Thinking about this some more, maybe there is some method to the madness… if “X” is intended to become a superapp, maybe we will see extensions with sub brands for different functionalities: PayX, StreamX, TweetX, ChatX all in line with the SpaceX nomenclature?

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