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What Twitter's rebranding as X could mean for its value


Elon Musk has decided to rebrand Twitter as X. The social media site has a new capital-X logo, and a massive X has been projected onto the company's San Francisco headquarters at night. Let's talk about what the X branding means with NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr. Dara, good morning.


INSKEEP: And I just want to propose here, if it's all right with you - and it's fine either way - but I would like to refer to you in this interview as just a single letter. How about K? Is K OK with you?

KERR: (Laughter) Oh, yeah. That makes sense, considering my last name's Kerr. Yeah. OK.

INSKEEP: OK. You can call me K also because I've got a K in my name. But anyway, we're talking here about X. Elon Musk - OK, I get it. There's SpaceX. There's the Tesla Model X. What makes Musk think so much about X?

KERR: You know, he has been obsessed with the letter X for a long time. And, yeah, when he announced that he was rebranding Twitter to X, he even posted a photo on Twitter making a big X sign with his arms and the caption, not sure what subtle clues gave it away, but I like the letter X. So going back many decades, one of Musk's early company was already called, and that eventually became PayPal. And back then, the X branding was not popular. According to the book "PayPal Wars," customer research showed people didn't like the X name and preferred PayPal.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So there's already a track record here, but we're going back to X. What are people saying about X when they're writing, you know, things on X?

KERR: Yeah. Well, so far, it's only been a day. The drama has been instant. As construction crews took down the big Twitter sign at its San Francisco headquarters yesterday, the cops showed up. The police later said no crime was committed. So I spoke to Marisa Mulvihill. She's a branding expert from marketing company Prophet. She says we've seen companies like Uber and Google that initially had these names that were kind of meaningless become quite meaningful in our lives. However, with a name like X, there's just a lot of negative associations.

MARISA MULVIHILL: I've already heard some of the jokes about, you know, why it's perfect 'cause it's exactly what he's done, right? He's eliminated jobs, eliminated features, eliminated advertisers, eliminated users - so really excising all of it.

INSKEEP: Excising - go on.

KERR: Yeah, I know. That was a good one. And she also points out, too, another problem.

MULVIHILL: The other concern is that it is oftentimes used for - I don't even want to say this out loud, but - pornography. So that's also a real challenge that could be complicated in search browsers.

INSKEEP: Could rebranding to X be a way of changing the subject from all the other problems at the company formerly known as Twitter.

KERR: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. We saw Facebook do this a couple of years ago when it was rebranded as Meta. At that time, Frances - ah, sorry. Excuse me - Facebook was grappling with all these leaks from the whistleblower Frances Haugen. And some people could be saying this was - is Elon Musk's way of making a pivot away from all this turmoil and trouble. But - and he's trying to turn this X into a - an app that does everything, with banking and money transfers. But so far, we really only have a name change.

INSKEEP: What becomes of the old logo?

KERR: Well, the little blue bird is gone off the website. The Twitter sign is off the San Francisco headquarters, and people are making all these jokes about, do we tweet or do we Xt (ph)? And so it really shows how ingrained Twitter language has become and the word tweet. And now Musk is just walking away from all of that brand equity.

INSKEEP: Wow. OK. NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr, also known as K, coming to you on your news network, N. K, thanks very much.

KERR: (Laughter) Thank you, K. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.