Elon Musk held a massive conference call with advertisers Wednesday for more than 100,000 people. He sounded thoughtful about Twitter’s plans. He wasn’t sure how it would work, but he wanted feedback. “I just got the keys to the building last Friday,” he said, later adding, “I’m open to ideas.”
The problem for Musk is that this is unlikely to upset the advertisers he has upset since his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. They tell me they don’t care what Musk says on an outreach call like this. They care what he does and what he tweets.
Such concerns will grow. The day after Musk hosted an advertiser conference call, and two of his executives who accompanied him on that conference call and a similar one a week earlier — Robin Wheeler, head of ad sales, and Trust and Safety. Yoel Roth—who was in charge of the — resigned.Around many reportMusk told employees that the company could go bankrupt if it can’t cut costs and turn a profit.
This is a new problem for Musk, who has become the richest man in the world by selling electric cars and building rocket ships, and doesn’t care what other people think of him. Or at least, he doesn’t care what controversy-averse advertisers think of him.
But now he very much has to. Advertisers are all of his Twitter revenue streams at this point, and Musk isn’t happy. If he can’t turn it around, he’s in big trouble.
Musk has done some really impressive things in the past — launching the electric car movement with Tesla and commercial spaceflight with SpaceX — Twitter is another animal. Musk seems to consider his social media to be a relatively trivial matter compared to the engineering feats he’s grasped, but being in a completely different industry now means much of his previous experience isn’t quite there. It may not apply.
Equally disturbing, he seems to be doing this largely alone and improvisationally. There are very few people around him who can or are willing to tell him he is wrong..
A clear example of this deficit is twitter (Of course) Musk announced last week that the company was suffering from a “significant drop in revenue” as advertisers began to withdraw. In the same note, he blamed the erosion of advertisers on pressure from “activist groups” and later “thermonuclear name and shameCampaigns against marketers who withdrew money. In other words, he blackmailed future customers.
This is exactly the kind of thing an advertising executive would tell me about Masks and Twitter bothering them.
“His personal Twitter handle poses a level of reputational risk that, in my experience, is unacceptable for most Fortune 500 companies,” he said in a Zoom call last week with Musk and about 100 other industry insiders. says advertising executive Lou Pascalis, whom I met at
In that call, Pasqualis said Musk took a similar approach to what he did today. Musk took marketers’ questions seriously, emphasizing his plans to clean up Twitter by introducing a “mild paywall” of $8 per month to his Twitter users. He didn’t want the content to get buried and talked about creating a better advertising experience on the service.
Paskalis says that Musk, if a little “naive,” has pulled it off and seemed to allay advertisers’ concerns. “I think for most of us he moved the ball forward,” Pascalis told me. “He didn’t score a touchdown, but he got ground.”
The next day, Musk laid off half of Twitter’s employees. Among them were employees who were addressing brand safety, a major concern for advertisers. Paskalis asked him about the move on Twitterand Musk replied with block him.
It’s a move outside of Musk’s strategy — he once refused to sell Tesla to disgruntled customers in an open letter — and it’s largely worked out for him. , he suggested brands and their management should follow his lead and act more freely on Twitter. This is what I have done with Tesla and SpaceX and it has worked very well. ”
But the advertising executives I’ve spoken to strongly disagree. Musk has said that a Twitter user, her Elon Musk, and his Twitter owner, her Elon Musk, should be differentiated, but advertisers don’t see the difference at all. Especially when he engages in things like highlighting conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi and threatening advertisers via tweets he later deleted. Who are the customers of
“It’s one thing to meet a client and say the right thing,” says the former member of Twitter’s sales team, who was laid off last week. “Seeing his tweets is another.” Or, as another former Twitter salesperson told me, “Elon needs to understand that every tweet is a statement of policy.” .”
Advertisers also say, contrary to what Musk says, they aren’t too worried about pressure from advocacy groups like Media Matters for America and the Anti-Defamation League. The infrastructure Twitter had before.
“[Advertisers] We deal with activists all the time,” said an industry veteran who bought ads from Twitter in the past. “They certainly understand how to deal with pressure. Is he blaming activists? They are laughing.”
Perhaps Musk’s biggest problem is the asymmetry between himself and his advertisers. But they don’t need him.
The reason Musk was able to buy Twitter in the first place is to remind some people (maybe Musk) that Twitter is so important, but advertisers aren’t. This is a sub-scale digital advertising platform, which is why he is worth more than two very important platforms, Google and Meta, which advertisers must use. And with digital advertising already under pressure, the marketer will gladly find reasons to cut back on his Twitter spending.
Worse for Musk: Twitter advertisers tend to be brand advertisers, unlike those that rely on Google or Meta. This is a group of ad buyers who are more controversial than, say, those who sell app downloads or supplements. “Marketers want predictability,” says the former Twitter advertiser. “They don’t want their boss to fire them.”
There are risks that stack up, but that’s not all. Ad buyers on Twitter don’t expect massive reach, so Twitter has trained them to expect to reach a niche but influential audience. In other words, the very audience that advertisers might consider willing to leave Twitter if the Musk chaos continues.
Can masks fix this? perhaps? He envisions a future where consumers spend a lot of money on his Twitter, so he doesn’t rely on advertising dollars. He also talks about making advertising on Twitter more engaging and ultimately building a “bottom of the funnel” advertising business. This is something that will appeal to advertisers like Google and Meta.
But all that is yet to come. Now the richest man in the world, relatively few people worry about giving him advertising dollars. Things will have to be done – he needs to change who he is.
Update, November 10, 5:30 PM ET: This article, first published on November 9th, has been updated to reflect the resignation of a new Twitter executive.
Correction, November 9th at 5:40 PM ET: An earlier version of this article misidentified advocacy groups. Anti-Defamation League.