Elon Musk Struggling to Answer the Questions Brands Have

In meetings with agency and brand leadership this week, Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, has been receptive to concerns about hate speech on the platform while also generally eluding pressing questions about the platform’s future, sources told Adweek.

“Honestly, it seemed a bit all over the place,” said a media buying executive at a large CPG brand, who attended a meeting earlier this week between the company and several brands. The source added that Musk did not answer several questions about his plans for advertising on the platform, including whether tobacco ads would be permissible.

A second media buyer, who works at a large agency, said a second meeting with the company has been set up to answer more detailed questions that Musk wasn’t able to answer during a meeting earlier in the week.

“He was an active participant and actively listening to concerns of agency leadership about brand safety and what that means for the clients,” said the buyer. “We’re looking for a signal in a lot of noise,” the source said.

Brands are trying to weigh private conversations with Musk, which have often lacked detail but been respectful, with his public presence on Twitter, where he has been critical of the advertising community. This morning, he tweeted that revenue at Twitter was down because of “activist groups” adding, “we did everything we could to appease advertisers.”

Despite this proclamation, estimates from data analytics firm Pathmatics show Twitter’s US ad revenue has barely budged since Musk’s acquisition. During the first four days of this week, brands spent around $20.29 million on the platform compared to $20.3 million the first four days of last week.

Ebiquity, an ad-tech firm that monitors media spend, told Adweek that nine out of 17 brand advertisers they have contacted this week to have instructed their agencies to suspend advertising on Twitter until further notice. Although the company did not share the specific brands, some of its clients include Sony, Nestle, Subway and Mazda.

Some big names have indeed paused spend, including General Mills. But others are still waiting. Our media buyer source says none of their clients are off the platform. Reflecting this reality, CPMs on the platform have not fluctuated dramatically, Avi Ben Zvi, vp of paid social at performance marketing agency Tinuiti said.

“Until something tangibly, concretely changes, there are a lot of advertisers that are waiting or operating business as usual,” the media buyer source said.

Adweek contacted Twitter for comment Friday morning, but our emails to a spokesperson bounced back, which may be the result of widespread layoffs. An email to the company Friday afternoon was not returned.

Brands pull eight figures in annual revenue

A third media buyer source at a large brand said the channel had been a strong performer.

Even before Musk took over and hate speech rapidly increased on the platform, Twitter had struggled with preventing harmful and illegal content, some of it adjacent to ads. In late September, several brands found out they had been inadvertently advertising on accounts peddling child porn, per a report in Reuters. One of those brands, which spends more than $15 million on Twitter, subsequently paused spend on the platform, the third media buyer told Adweek.

The brand was considering returning to the platform recently and had scheduled a meeting this week with the company. But then Twitter abruptly canceled the meeting, souring relations.

“They just realized all of this was happening and [had] nothing to say,” the source said.

After this week, with hate speech increasing on the platform and Elon Musk tweeting (and then deleting) an inaccurate story about the attack of Paul Pelosi, the brand isn’t planning to return any time soon.

“It’s a long road of fundamentally making us understand that [Musk] understands what we need from a brand safety standpoint,” the buyer said. “I have zero confidence in that right now.”

The media buying executive from the CPG company also stopped ad spend on Twitter due to a similar incident that also happened a month ago during which ads ran adjacent to predatory accounts. The company’s media spend on Twitter is more than $10 million annually. It’s now shifting budgets to CTV and TikTok.

The company had plans to advertise on Twitter for the upcoming Super Bowl, as it had done in past years, but that’s no longer the case, the source said.

“Our brand is our most valuable asset, we would not and cannot have them be associated with content that would be hateful or vulgar,” the source said.

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