“What’s in a name?” wrote William Shakespeare. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
Elon Musk is sure hoping so, as he’s decided to rename Twitter to simply “X” in his bid to turn the popular social networking site he purchased for $44 billion last year into a WeChat-style all-in-one experience he says “if done right, would become half of the global financial system.”
Elon Musk says if done right, X would become half of the global financial system. pic.twitter.com/HoslcIxRiP
— Watcher.Guru (@WatcherGuru) July 24, 2023
“If done right” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, as Twitter has become demonstrably worse since Musk’s purchase (rate limits, unpaid bills, scared advertisers, Twitter Blue, layoffs, firings, leaks of private messages, and so, so many more examples), but hey, I’m no social media or business expert, so who am I to judge?
What I am an expert in is branding. And as part of an elite branding agency like Elasticity, I do think I can make some judgments on Musk’s new name, logo and branding strategy (or lack of one).
When we start on a rebranding project for one of our clients, the first question we ask is “Why?” Why do you want a new name or a new logo? What’s wrong with your old one? Where is it failing?
In Twitter’s case, the answer to why seems to be because Elon felt like it. He’s had an obsession with the name X since his early days, where he tried to use it to rename PayPal before being forced out of the company. And he reacquired the domain X.com in 2017, keeping his dreams of using the name alive. He even named one of his children X (or more famously, X Æ A-12).
But Twitter doesn’t need a new name because Twitter already has something that every other brand would kill for: Brand recognition. People know the name Twitter. They know its iconic bird logo. They know its particular shade of aqua. The word “tweet” has entered the global lexicon. While X and “x’s” (that’s apparently what we call tweets now…no word on whether they all live in Texas) may eventually get that same amount of broad understanding and appeal, why chance it?
In fact, most brands are so desperate to keep any amount of brand recognition, they’ll change their name just to keep it. In the video game space, when Japanese software publisher Square Co. acquired the Enix Corporation, they renamed the company to Square Enix. Same goes for the companies of Bandai and Namco, who are now, you guessed it: Bandai Namco Entertainment. Are either of these names elegant? No, but they both sacrificed that elegance in the name of people knowing who the companies were, and that is way more important to a company.
Maybe even more important than brand recognition is being able to legally own your name. One of the requirements to getting a trademark for your name and logo from the USPTO is to be unique and specific. “Twitter,” a relatively uncommon English word combined with its bird logo and special blue, meets that criteria. But “X,” being represented by a…well, an X (a black and white one to boot) is going to be a lot more difficult to trademark and maintain. Elon does say the current X logo is a placeholder, which is good, because you probably want to put a little more thought into a logo than something you bought for $30 on myfonts.com.
Like most decisions Elon has made with Twitter, this one does not seem particularly well thought through. Other companies that have done similar things in the past (think Google and Alphabet or Facebook and Meta) have only changed their parent company names to better diversify their offerings (or, in Meta’s case try to change the conversation while being grilled by congressional hearings) while keeping the names for the specific products. Twitter already did that in April, making this current name change even less justified.
But at the end of the day, when you spend $44 billion on something, I guess you’re allowed to name it whatever you want, no matter how short sighted it may be. But it won’t stop here. Elon is going to keep making changes to Twitter piece by piece, like some sort of idiotic Silicon Valley Ship of Theseus. In the meantime…does anyone have a Bluesky invite they can toss my way?