A new report by the Financial Times says X will now turn to small and medium-sized advertisers to shore up revenue after the company’s owner Elon Musk alienated big brands fleeing X over antisemitic content by telling them they could go fuck themselves during an interview at the New York Times DealBook Summit earlier this week. But while the FT paints a picture of a bright future for X, where catering to SMBs was always the goal, Musk himself warned only days ago that the loss of big advertisers would spell the end of X.
Speaking at the event, Musk told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin “What this advertising boycott is going to do is it’s going to kill the company,” he said with a small nod to the audience. “And what the whole world will know is that those advertisers killed the company and we will document it in great detail.”
That’s a different story than the one emerging today where a company representative informed the FT that “small and medium businesses are a very significant engine that we have definitely underplayed for a long time” and that “it [was] always part of the plan — now we will go even further with it.”
Of course, that could just be spin. In reality, X doesn’t have any other choice but to proceed with SMB ad opportunities, as many of the large brands that have left X aren’t planning on returning. According to a report by The New York Times, half a dozen marketing agencies the paper spoke to said they would not resume advertising on X and others said they had advised advertisers to stop posting on the platform, as well. Some even said their temporary advertising pauses on X would likely turn permanent. The Times additionally noted that some 200 advertisers had halted spending on the platform after Musk endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy with one of his impulsive replies to another X user. Brands including Apple, Disney, Comcast, IBM, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Paramount, and others, including now, Walmart, a former Twitter partner on e-commerce initiatives, have stopped advertising on the platform.
Though Musk attempted to clear up confusion over his remarks in subsequent posts, and again during his DealBook interview, it’s fair to say the damage has been done — and this time, it could be lasting.
Sorkin, however, pushed back at Musk’s claims that the world would see the end of X as the advertisers‘ fault. He pressed Musk to re-examine that sentiment, noting that the advertisers would likely say that Musk’s own actions were to blame because he said “inappropriate things” on the platform, which made the advertisers feel uncomfortable.
“Tell it to Earth,” rebutted Musk. “Let’s see how Earth responds to that. We’ll both make our cases and we’ll see what the outcome is.”
But there still remains a question as to whether Musk would really let X fail, even if ad revenues decline to the point that X was unsustainable as a business on its own. As the world’s wealthiest person, Sorkin pointed out that Musk has “enormous” resources to keep the company afloat if he chose to do so.
To that, Musk’s response indicated that he might allow X to die.
“I mean, if the company fails because of an advertiser boycott, it will fail because of an advertiser boycott. And that will be what bankrupt the company — and that’s what everyone on Earth will know…Then it will be gone. It will be gone because of an advertiser boycott,” he said.
When again pressed about the brand safety issues, he added, “Tell it to the judge. The judge is the public.”
In other words, Musk was trying to flip the script and pressure the advertisers to return to X or risk a boycott of their own.
But as the FT reports, X is already working on new sources of ad revenue, citing an earlier tie-up with marketing firm JumpCrew, which it will outsource some ad sales to, targeting SMBs. And the company told the FT this push to reach SMBs would be accelerated. The report also noted, as others have, that X CEO Linda Yaccarino has been “bombarded with calls” urging her to quit to protect her reputation. But so far, Yaccarino has been backing up Musk following his comments, including via an internal email, reported by CNBC, where she noted “our principles do not have a price tag, nor will they be compromised – ever. And no matter how hard they try, we will not be distracted by sideline critics who don’t understand our mission.”