Marketing Briefing: Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover is off to a rocky start, leaving advertisers with mixed feelings


It has been less than a week since Elon Musk officially inked the deal to acquire Twitter and things are already off to a shaky start. In other words, what was supposed to quell advertisers’ concerns has instead made for mixed reviews from media buyers. 

“As head of Tesla and SpaceX, he could say anything at any time,” Allen Adamson, brand consultant and co-founder of Metaforce, said via email. “Behaving the same way won’t work for a company funded by advertisers that want eyeballs and not controversy.”

Twitter’s new owner spent the weekend replying to Hillary Clinton in a now-deleted tweet sharing misinformation and firing several Twitter executives. General Motors, a competitor of Musk’s Tesla auto company, temporarily suspended advertising on Twitter in light of the takeover, and several celebrities announced their departures from the platform. 

There are also reports that under new leadership, Twitter is planning to start charging $20 per month for account verification. Meanwhile, reports say there’s been an increase in slurs on the platform following the deal. 

While some advertisers have balked at the changes, others say Twitter’s new direction under Musk doesn’t change much, especially as Twitter wasn’t a significant portion of clients’ ad budgets. 

Twitter has long since struggled with presenting itself as a brand-safe platform, especially at the height of the 2020 election and Covid-19 pandemic. Along with other social media platforms, Twitter made a push for brand safety in hopes advertisers would find comfort (and continue to spend) amid efforts to limit harmful content and hate speech. 

“Where so much progress has been made to increase the safety of social networks, this is a huge step back,” Nathalie Ormrod, associate director of media planning for ad agency Blue State’s London division, said in an email to Digiday. Per Ormrod, Blue State works with several nonprofit organizations, and the added controversy on the platform now calls into question whether Twitter will remain a mainstay in client marketing strategy.

Media buyers are faced with a volatile digital marketing landscape, between rising CPMs and complications from data privacy crackdowns. Twitter’s controversial takeover stands to make matters worse, said Elijah Schneider, founder and CEO of marketing agency Modifly. 

“Twitter has been a pretty hostile environment the last few days,” he said. “I really think focusing on other platforms right now, as someone in paid media, makes a lot of sense.”

While the transition has brought on a renewed uncertainty from some media buyers, others say Musk is a smart businessman who may bring some of the acumen used at Tesla and SpaceX to boost Twitter’s cashflow. 

“While people may not agree with political or controversial accounts, it’s impressions and eyeballs we need for our clients,” David Song, CEO at Rosie Labs ad agency, said via email. “As long as Twitter delivers on audiences and reach, they will continue to stay on our buys.”

The controversy around Musk’s Twitter takeover may be more about reshaping the perception of Twitter than the actual platform, Brandon Biancalani, head of paid advertising at Modifly, said via email. In its current state, ad buying performance within Twitter is inconsistent, he added. 

“If there are more use cases and case studies or tangible improvements that Musk proposes, that could inspire more advertisers to be optimistic about Twitter ads,” Biancalani said.

3 Questions with Alex Griffin, CMO at Swiss sportswear brand On

What are On’s current marketing goals?

As a brand who believes in fostering and powering a community around running, we have an amazing opportunity to tell the world and prove why running is so great. With people placing focus on their bodies, how healthy they feel, or how agile they are, there is also a lesser known benefit of running, which is the benefits it provides to your brain and finding your flow state. [In September], we launched a 30 day challenge with influential creatives and the Flow Research Collective to determine how running can prompt the state of flow, an optimal state of consciousness where people feel and perform their best. 

What marketing channels are proving to be most effective in meeting those goals?

The most effective and positive marketing channel we’ve seen thus far is our work with local, micro influencers across channels (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube) because we find that our consumers around the world want to organically follow these personalities’ stories. In our [out of home] strategy for Dream On, we wanted to be provocative and tell people why we think running is important. Our OOH for this campaign didn’t necessarily feel like advertising and, generally, OOH gives brands the opportunity to tell their audience what they want to tell them. While it’s not always the case, we wanted to tell our audience what they wanted to hear rather than forcing a specific message. Thus, the OOH served as an extension, thematically, of what our creators were posting on their social channels.

How is On thinking about its marketing budget/ad spend as conversations around economic downturn heat up?

On is in a fortunate position as a hyper-growth brand. That means that our budgets go up every year, and even though we’re now a public company, we are still intentional on spending on things we feel are important that will help drive durable growth. The biggest challenge for us is not how much we spend, but how we focus the budget we do have. As our brand awareness grows, more and more people want to come work with us and with that, comes the difficult task of saying no, in order to continue focusing on what’s right for the overall brand.

By the numbers

The saying goes, “What goes up must come down.” It’s a fitting saying for the current state of e-commerce, according to AppsFlyer’s 2022 edition of its State of eCommerce App Marketing report.  According to the report, “eCommerce is no longer attracting the same volume of new users, and rising prices are starting to take their toll on marketing budgets and planning.” Find a breakdown below:

  • E-commerce app marketers spent $6.1 billion on user acquisition, but global ad spend nosedived over 50% year over year due to rising iOS media cost, the relative return to normalcy post-Covid and other macroeconomic conditions.
  • Android e-commerce app installs dropped 5% globally year over year, excluding in India, which gained significant new traffic. 
  • iOS installs also took a slight 4% downturn in the same period after the surge in downloads during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Quote of the week

“That is the opposite of what we need to do to build brand safety. We need to be focused on moderation, more healthy conversations and greater trust among users and between communities, publishers and advertisers.”

— Tiffany Xingwu Wang, CMO of OpenWeb, in response to Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

What we’ve covered

More in Marketing

Inside X’s latest, desperate attempt to beguile advertisers

If X has its way, 2024 will be the year it hits the long, twisted trail back to advertiser land, according to the platform’s pitch deck.

How Amazon Prime’s ‘Fallout’ series highlights the power of post-apocalyptic video game IP

To some extent, the mainstream success of the “Fallout” series is a reflection of the massive scale of the Amazon Prime machine. But the consensus among viewers and critics is that it’s a damn good show, too.

Why the New York Times is forging connections with gamers as it diversifies its audience

The New York Times is not becoming a gaming company. But as it continues to diversify its editorial offerings for the digital era, the Times has embraced puzzle gamers as one of its core captive audiences, and it is taking ample advantage of its advantageous positioning in the space in 2024.