Apr 18, 2023 - Technology

Musk tries media blitz to win back Twitter advertisers

Worldwide Twitter ad revenue
Data: Insider Intelligence; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Elon Musk is on a reputation-mending media tour as Twitter faces business challenges and advertiser skepticism tied to his erratic and controversial product and policy changes.

Why it matters: Musk claimed in an interview with BBC last week that most of Twitter's advertisers have returned, but analysts suggest Twitter's ad revenue is rapidly declining.

  • Asked during the BBC interview to name an example of a single advertiser that left Twitter and returned, Musk could not provide one.

By the numbers: A new March 2023 forecast from Insider Intelligence suggests Twitter will bring in roughly $2.9 billion in ad revenue for 2023, after initially forecasting in October 2022 that it would earn $4.74 billion.

  • Another estimate from Sensor Tower suggests that Twitter's top 50 advertisers have slowed spending in the first two months of this year by nearly $20 million collectively, compared to the same time period in 2022.
  • Other data from Sensor Tower suggests Musk's attempt to charge users for verification hasn't led to huge revenue gains so far on mobile.

Driving the news: Musk sat for an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson to discuss everything from his plans to build a "truth-seeking" AI tool to his spat with The New York Times.

  • In the first part of the interview that aired Monday evening, Carlson did not press Musk about Twitter's advertising and revenue challenges. A second part will air Tuesday.

This week, Musk will sit down with NBCUniversal's head of advertising and partnerships Linda Yaccarino for a pre-planned interview at a conference for mobile marketers.

  • He'll be making his case to skeptical advertisers that Twitter remains a safe and effective place for brands.

Between the lines: Musk is trying to defend himself broadly in places where he's comfortable, but his distrust of the media looms.

  • Last week, he did a last-minute interview with the BBC because, he said, "There's a lot going on and this might be a good opportunity to answer some questions."
  • Days later, he said the interview "was exceptional in illustrating why you cannot rely on the media for truth."

Be smart: Instead of focusing on messages that tend to resonate with the advertising community — like brand safety or effective content moderation — Musk has tried to paint a broader picture of Twitter as a healthy company that's better off under his ownership.

  • He told the BBC that Twitter "could be profitable, or to be more precise, cash flow positive this quarter if things keep going well."
  • He told Fox News that he overpaid for Twitter but that "ensuring the strength of democracy and ensuring free speech" was priceless.

The big picture: Musk's strategy of engaging mostly with individuals he trusts or directly communicating via his own tweets has led to more chaos and confusion for advertisers, which is why marketers will be watching his interview with NBC's Yaccarino closely this week.

  • Musk infamously axed Twitter's entire communications team when he took ownership and has trashed public relations efforts.
  • He has picked fights with several traditional news outlets over everything from verification to account labels.

What to watch: Whether Musk provides concrete examples of policy changes or efforts that will allay advertiser concerns around things like hate speech and misinformation.

  • While Musk claims hate speech has gone down under his ownership, third party research indicates it hasn't.
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