News | April 25th 2022

The Drum | Adland's reaction to Musk's $44bn Twitter deal: 'a major disruption to its ad business'

Originally published in The Drum

Elon Musk didn’t hide the fact that he wanted control of Twitter and now, $44bn later, he has it. The world’s richest man and hardcore free speech advocate, Musk said in a statement: “Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it." So how could this impact brands and agencies? Here’s what top agency executives had to say.

Consumers may not be interested if Twitter becomes the wild, wild west

“The idea that Elon Musk is going to solve the ‘free speech issue’ on Twitter is something that brands need to be mindful of when they think about content their brands align with. Coupled with the potential that consumers may not be as engaged or weary of the platform if it becomes the wild west! Also, what will the role of ads be on Twitter with Musk at the helm? He has mentioned a subscription-type model, does that mean more data for advertisers?” – Karen Benson, executive vice-president/director of integrated media at Deutsch New York

“For brands, there are really two big watch-outs from Elon buying twitter - safety, and community. Will the hard work the platform has done to be a brand safe space be committed to or left behind, and will brands be comfortable with the new editorial direction of the channel? From a community perspective, we have to wonder what changes will happen to Twitter's user-base under Musk's ownership, and if that audience will remain as valuable to marketers as they are right now. Twitter has a relatively low user-base compared to Meta or TikTok but has always provided outsize cultural impact - will that stay the same? Changes in both these spaces will only appear over time, but we have to consider other great social network takeovers - like Tumblr or MySpace - that failed to gain momentum under different leadership. The people are what make these platforms successful at the end of the day, and we'll see if the people who use Twitter will appreciate Musk's vision.” – Alex Watts, head of social at DDB Sydney

"Right now we are taking a wait-and-see approach. A lot of users have been threatening to leave the platform, which could be very alarming to advertisers who have sponsored content initiatives scheduled. That said, a similar exodus scare happened with Spotify in response to the Joe Rogen controversy, and that never came to fruition, at least not to the extent that had been hyped."​ – Sway Group chief executive Danielle Wiley

There will be more pressure on brands to battle disinformation

The larger, more problematic impact will be on society, not brands and advertisers per se. Brands will need likely need to double down on countering and tamping down on the copious amounts of hate, misinformation and disinformation to follow an unstable genius’ takeover of the platform. If Musk really wanted to help the world he would have bought Twitter only to shut it down.” – Aaron Kwittken, founder/chairman of KWT Global

“It is a wild moment, no doubt. At least in the near-term (and once the sale is completed), knowing Elon's somewhat ‘absolutist’ stance on free speech, the biggest question for us will be around potential Twitter platform policy shifts on the subject. Namely, if any/all users who under Twitter's current terms were deemed ‘in violation’ (and thus banned) will be allowed back unfettered on the platform. Should this take place, there will be various brand safety/suitability concerns that we will need to closely monitor and adjust for on behalf of our clients as they arise.” – Jon Morgernstern, senior vice-president, head of investment at VaynerMedia.

A major disruption to Twitter’s ad business

"Twitter under Elon Musk will test the limits of acceptable free speech and attempt to democratize the platform by putting more power into the hands of users. As a result, brands will need to meaningfully reconsider the utility, motivations, and relevance of their content to stand out in a more meritocratic landscape." – Collin Arnold, creative strategy director at Code and Theory.

"In the longer-term, with Elon's prior stated viewpoint in mind, we are also preparing for the possibility of fairly major disruption to Twitter's advertising business, including a future where its capabilities are somewhat sizably diminished – particularly from a targeting and tracking/attribution standpoint. Though, also extending to the possible deprecation of large swaths of functionality entirely, in exchange for the adoption and push for a more subscription/service-oriented monetization future." – Jon Morgernstern, senior vice-president, head of investment at VaynerMedia.

Twitter to become more premium?

"Elon Musk has not pulled any punches toward Twitter's past and current management with respect to monetization. Amongst other things he argues that the platform, owing to its prime position with key public, political and corporate figures, could yield higher advertising returns, probably in the form of more premium CPCs or CPMs. That's a very good approach, but one that might be at odds with his apparent willingness to make Twitter, once more, into the free speech platform, therefore chipping at brand safety. That's definitely where the challenge will lie!" – Anthony Hamelle, executive director, digital and social, TBWA\Chiat\Day NY

"[There will be] new opportunities. With the amount of press and speculation, and with Elon being Elon, I am assuming there will be some changes that are rolled out. While he marches to his own beat, his reputation for innovation is well-earned and may bring exciting opportunities to the platform that accelerates growth." – Erica Patrick, Mediahub’s senior vice-president, director of paid social.

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