Is Elon Musk (already) scaring away advertisers?

Will the Twitter engine stall just after its takeover by mega-billionaire Elon Musk? The entrepreneur, a fervent libertarian, has multiplied the declarations on his intention to make it a platform of absolute freedom of expression, which is not to the taste of advertisers, the main contributors to his income.

US automaker General Motors, rival of Tesla, also owned by Musk, was the first to say it was suspending its ads. “We are talking to Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under its new owner.he said in a message sent to AFP. As is normal during a major change on a media platform, we have temporarily suspended our paid advertising. » In its wake, the Franco-Italian-American group Stellantis (Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat Chrysler, etc.) said “vigilant […] vis-à-vis the new management of Twitter »from Reuters.

The sequel after the ad

More broadly, the American advertising giant Interpublic Group (IPG) would have recommended to its customers to “temporarily suspend” their activities on Twitter, in particular the purchase of advertisements, reports journalist Ryan Barwick. IPG counts Coca-Cola, Unilever, American Express, Nintendo and Spotify among its clients. “The current situation is unpredictable and chaotic, and bad actors and dangerous behavior thrive in such an environment”would have justified the marketing group to its customers, according to the CNBC channel.

a flood of racist messages

Latest actor to date: the French cosmetics giant L’Oréal has decided to “discreetly suspend” its advertisements on Twitter, an executive told the Financial Times. Contacted by “Obs”, the group denies the information. Ryan Barwick reports that several advertisers wish to suspend their advertisements on the platform, in order to preserve their brand, but do everything to remain as discreet as possible and do not make any public declaration on it, for fear of becoming “a target for Elon Musk’s acolytes”.

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Emboldened by Musk’s promise to end the “censorship”, some users have multiplied hate messages. Last weekend, just after the arrival of the new boss, the social network recorded a surge of racist messages. The increase is around +1,700%, according to the analysis company Dataminr, with insults appearing 215 times every five minutes. What arouse apprehension among advertisers, not out of altruism, but because they know that the consumers targeted by these insults can turn away from the products which help to support them.

“We are not suspending our ads yet, but we remain extremely vigilant to the evolution of Twitterr, says Bertille Toledano, president of the advertising agency BETC and co-president of the Association of Communication Consulting Agencies (AACC). We are waiting to find out what the Twitter that Elon Musk dreams of as completely free will look like. If the platform opts for the absence of moderation and is nothing more than hateful, racist, homophobic remarks, then yes, the advertisers, whose advertisements interact with this content, could stop using it. »

The sequel after the ad

A change in the relationship to content

Elon Musk feels this fear rising. Just before his arrival, he has, on Twittertried to reassure: “To be very clear, we haven’t yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies. » In the process, the social network teams wrote to the various communication and advertising agencies by e-mail, taking up the message of appeasement from the new boss.

We note, however, that, barely arrived, Elon Musk dismissed both in the legal, public relations, marketing and customer relations departments. Worse, according to Bloomberg, the team in charge of fighting misinformation, hate and harassment has seen its capacities drastically reduced: now, only about fifteen people have the capacity to delete a message, against several hundred previously. Suggesting, in fact, the beginning of a change in the relationship to content at Twitter. Before the realization of its desire to remove free certified accounts, which should sow more confusion between reliable content and misinformation.

On October 26, 2022, on his Twitter account, Elon Musk posted a photo of himself entering the premises of Twitter with a sink, a few days before his takeover of the company for 44 billion dollars. (AP/SIPA)

Impossible also for Musk to repress his naturalness as an agent provocateur: this Wednesday, in a surveyhe asked his 113.5 million subscribers if advertisers should “support freedom of expression” Where “politically correct” – the first choice coming largely in the lead.

“Advertisers need to act urgentlyhas challenged a coalition of 49 civil rights groups in the United States, in an open letter to the main groups that broadcast advertising on Twitter. If Elon Musk only does a fraction of what he has already pledged to do, Twitter will not and cannot be a safe platform for brands. »

The sequel after the ad

“An increased risk for the image”

The purchase of the blue bird thus pushes companies to question the protection of their brand (we are talking about “brand safety”). “Historically, the context in which advertisements are served has always been very controlled, recalls David Leclabart, president of the communications agency Australia. GAD and co-chair of the AACC. In a newspaper, on the radio or on television, the space where the advertiser is inserted is validated. Except that there has been a huge change with digital: first, investment is made on platforms where you don’t know who is speaking, or what they are going to say, or when they are going to say it; and then with programmatic [l’achat automatique à grande échelle d’emplacements pubs, NDLR], advertising can be broadcast anywhere without real control. Hence an increased risk for the image of the brand. »

Billionaire, visionary, reactionary: the disturbing faces of Elon Musk

The question of the toxicity of the messages present on Twitter is not new. The social network has long been pointed out as a bad student in terms of moderation, because of its low investment on the subject: only 1,867 people are dedicated to checking the messages published, according to a declaration sent to the CSA (and downloadable here ), compared to 15,000 moderators for Facebook or 10,000 for TikTok. “The arrival of Elon Musk poses a second question to advertisers: do they find themselves in the political ideology of this new boss? considers Emmanuel Parody, general secretary of Le Geste, an association of online service publishers. If Twitter begins to tolerate the expression of extreme right-wing opinions and hatred, then no one will want to associate their brand with it. »

We recently saw similar springs with the far-right weekly “Valeurs Actuelles”, whose advertising revenues have been drastically reduced since the Sleeping Giants collective undertook to publicly challenge all the brands that buy advertising inserts from it. From where the message addressed by Elon Musk to advertisers:

“Twitter obviously cannot be a hellish place open to everyone, where anything can be said without consequence. »

Before announcing that it wants to provide the social network with a “content moderation board with very diverse viewpoints”without further details.

The sequel after the ad

The example of Facebook

Many other pledges will be needed to retain advertisers and, ultimately, to guarantee the sustainability of the platform. Because Twitter is still ultra-dependent on ad revenue. In the second quarter of 2022, advertising accounted for 91.5% of its revenue. Libertarian or not, Musk will have no choice but to succeed in ensuring a certain stability of the social network, except to widen the deficit a little more.

Elon Musk, in February 2022
Elon Musk, in February 2022 (JIM WATSON / AFP)

Illustration of this power of advertisers: in June 2020, with the approach of the American presidential elections, more than 160 companies, including giants such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Honda or Starbucks, suspended their advertising expenditure on Facebook, as long as the network would not demonstrate better control over hateful content. Arm twisted, the boss, Mark Zuckerberg, had no choice but to accede to the request.

“More broadly, Twitter will have to demonstrate its valuebelieves Bertille Toledano of BETC. Advertisers will question the quality of its audience if they have to continue to invest in advertising, while users will question the interest of the social network if they have to take out a subscription in a period of inflation which forces them to arbitrate their expenses. . »

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To get rid of the addiction to advertising, Musk plans to review the premium offer of Twitter which offers additional options for a subscription, the amount of which varies according to Musk’s moods and the reactions of his interlocutors on Twitter (going from 2 to 20 dollars per month, before going back down to 8 dollars). An initiative strongly rejected by many users. As for the quality of the audience, no advertiser is eternal: we remember that the multinational Procter and Gamble, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, cut its advertising budgets on social networks, judging their effectiveness “limited”. Emmanuel Parody, from Le Geste, summarizes the situation:

“For now, most advertisers are waiting to see how the platform will evolve to decide. In any case, these will mainly be communication postures, because Twitter remains marginal in advertising investments. »

Shortly before officially taking the reins of Twitter, Elon Musk presented a plan to investors where he pledged to reduce dependence on advertising while increasing the platform’s revenue by five times by 2028, revealed the “New York Times”. But without ever explaining concretely how to do it… Especially if the engine of his income stalls as soon as he arrives.

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