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Advertisers’ fresh attention on X, formerly Twitter, following another tumultuous few days, obscures the reality that the alleged advertiser exodus—when Elon Musk assumed control of X in late October 2022—never fully represented all brands.
Like other platform boycotts, there’s a gap between what brands say and the channels they choose to run ads on.
Market intelligence firm Sensor Tower analyzed how many of X’s top 100 advertisers, as of October 2022, have stuck around in the ensuing months of Musk’s ownership.
In December 2022, 45 of these top spenders ceased advertising on the platform. That figure rose to 54 by February 2023, but dropped back to 46 in May, the month that former NBC Universal executive Linda Yaccarino assumed the CEO role. As of October, 50 top advertisers had stopped spending on the platform, according to Sensor Tower.
“All these brands made a big fuss and quietly, as the dust settled, they jumped back into the water,” said an agency media buyer requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive client matters. The buyer had a large entertainment client come back to the platform in the second quarter following Yaccarino’s appointment as CEO. This client stopped advertisements on X in the past week following the latest controversy in which Musk called an antisemitic post “the actual truth.”
Disney, Comcast and Apple, among others, stopped advertising on the platform in the past week. Additionally, left-leaning watchdog Media Matters published a report last week finding ads on X appearing next to hate speech. In turn, Musk is suing Media Matters for defamation.
There’s a contrarian take [that says] ‘give me the garbage inventory.’
—Anonymous ad buyer
Clients of media analysis firm Ebiquity have gradually stopped spend on X. Throughout 2022, around 30 clients were consistently active. That figure dropped to 24 in December 2022 and 16 in January, staying in the teens until July, when the number of active advertisers on X dropped to 6. Only two Ebiquity clients were on X as of September, the latest month for which data is available.
“A slow trickle [of clients] returned with Linda joining and then a slow decline [left] as issues mounted,” said a second media buyer, requesting anonymity. “About two months after Linda [joined] … it was obvious that Musk made decisions and Yaccarino always backed them.”
Insider Intelligence forecasts X’s global ad revenue will drop to $1.81 billion in 2024, a sharp fall from $4.41 billion in 2022 when Musk took over.
Success in selling products and for entertainment brands
While X’s latest brand safety controversies have been the final push for some brands, others are sticking with the platform.
An ecommerce client of the first media buyer is still on X after finding the platform particularly performative in selling products to men. The customer base is more female-skewing when the brand prioritizes other platforms.
“There is a very favorable CPM, cost arbitrage environment to exploit,” the first buyer said. “There’s a contrarian take [that says] ‘give me the garbage inventory.’ That remains an underpinning of a strategic conversion.”
X still has unduplicated reach compared to some platforms, and is still especially salient for pop culture conversations and entertainment brands, the buyer added.
Amazon spend on X increased by more than 84% in October 2023 compared to October of last year, according to Sensor Tower data. Adweek has reached out to Amazon for comment.
But most brands that have resumed advertising on the platform are spending much less than they did last year, the firm found. For example, Mondelez spent 28% more on X in October than it did in October 2022, according to Sensor Tower. Adweek has reached out to Mondelez for comment.
Other brands say X was never a performance driver.
A media buyer from a large restaurant brand said the platform was always the worst-performing social channel, generating the lowest return on ad spend (though still a positive figure). The brand has stopped spending on ads for over a year, though still posts via brand accounts. X figures less prominently in organic strategy, the buyer said.
“We used to amplify best performing organic via paid,” the brand media buyer said. “Without that, the reach is minimal.”