X Misses the Spot: How Elon Musk Tanked Twitter’s Reputation By Changing its Logo

It’s official, Twitter’s bird has flown the nest. Elon Musk has removed the iconic logo which reigned proudly for 12 years and replaced it with his signature ‘X’. This is another development in his headline-dominating acquisition and rebrand of Twitter which has been ongoing since he began buying stock in the tech company in January 2022.

Musk’s takeover has been divisive, with Twitter’s value dropping by “almost two-thirds since Musk acquired the company in October 2022,” as reported by the Guardian. Twitter users have responded mainly negatively to Musk’s rebrand, with a slew of one-star reviews already populating the App Store. Musk’s behaviour is far from the best practice when it comes to strengthening a social media brand.

Given Musk’s plummeting reputation, Meta’s rival platform, Threads is poised and ready to take Twitter’s place as the go-to destination for all things trending. The platform is on a mission to prove itself to be much more than just a summer fad by the end of the year after the addition of some key Twitter-style features.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of a logo and how overhauling a recognisable visual identity can damage your business reputation. We’ll also examine a better example to follow if you would like to successfully pull off a rebranding.

What happened?

Unless you live under a rock, you will have witnessed Elon Musk’s most recent stunt – wiping the slate clean on Twitter’s long-standing, instantly recognisable brand identity in place of his signature ‘X’. The logo currently shown on the site is an interim design, a product of a contest held by Musk to re-design the Twitter brand. On July 24th, he announced via his Twitter account: “If a good enough X logo is posted tonight, we’ll go live worldwide tomorrow, and soon we shall bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds.”

The logo is just the tip of the iceberg. After a series of events – including Musk’s public criticism of Twitter’s adherence to the principle of free speech, the revelation that Musk was Twitter’s largest shareholder, and the subsequent invitation to join its board of directors – Musk became the owner of Twitter on October 27th 2022.

Musk then proceeded to fire employees for expressing negative opinions about him in a private Slack channel. On top of this, he recommended existing Twitter employees who were unprepared to work towards his mission for X with a “maniacal sense of urgency,” leave. In total, he laid off half of Twitter’s existing employees as well as 80% of contracted employees.

“He pulled all the woke T-shirts out of the cabinets, and scoffed at the notion of psychologically safe workplaces,” Musk biographer Walter Isaacson told Axios. Meeting rooms that were once called Aviary, Tern, Bluebird, Canary and Mallard are now eXposure, eXult and s3Xy. In his latest act of aggression towards Twitter’s heritage, Musk is auctioning off Twitter’s signs and other memorabilia.

Musk’s vision is for X to become a so-called ‘everything app’ – a platform for messaging, social media, journalism and banking.

“X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities,” explained current Twitter CEO, Linda Yaccarino in a tweet. “For years, fans and critics alike have pushed Twitter to dream bigger, to innovate faster, and to fulfil our great potential. X will do that and more,” she continued.

This is the second time Musk has tried to make ‘X’ happen, the first being in 1999 when he attempted to brand PayPal, X.com, with the idea that X ‘marks the spot’ and signifies treasure. After focus groups concluded that X.com in fact, signifies pornography, Musk was shown the door. Peter Thiel and Max Levchin fired Musk from his CEO role in September 2000. Perhaps Twitter’s rebranding is a way for Musk to seek vengeance on his earlier critics, or perhaps, Yaccarino is correct, and the rebrand signifies welcome and needed innovation in the way we interact with each other, share our lives and deal with our finances. Only time will tell.

The Power of a Strong Logo for Brand Identity

Reactions to the rebrand have been largely negative. A number of users have taken to the App Store and Google Play Store to express their discontent with one-star ratings. One wrote: “Not many people can say they obliterated one of the world’s biggest brands overnight.” While another described the re-brand as: “mind-bendingly stupid,” and said: “It looks like an adult website now, I don’t like looking at it on my phone.”

Twitter’s initial brand identity was a solid example of a thoughtful, thematic concept that was adaptable to the needs of an evolving brand. The platform was started in 2006 and went through various iterations of both name and logo before settling on the light blue theme that would stick for the 16 years to come. The first logo, from 2006-2010, was a bubbly, sans-serif font that set the tone for the platform to be a welcoming space encouraging interaction and conversation.

Image from Creative Bloq
Image from Creative Bloq

In 2010, a bird graphic was added to the end of the logo and the white bubble was removed from the logotype. By 2012, the bird had become so synonymous with the Twitter brand, that they decided to lose the name from the logo entirely. The final bird was redesigned by designer Martin Grasser, based on a series of circles to encourage a rounded balance in the design that signified connection – tying in with the platform’s purpose.

What was smart about Twitter’s brand identity – including its logo – was the fact that it rested on a larger theme. The broad theme allowed expansion into subtler elements of Twitter’s branding. For example, the default profile picture of an egg. Calling its posts ‘tweets’ gave a sweet novelty to the act of using the service, that made users feel like they were part of the fun. Creating a new language can be a risky move when starting a new platform, but it truly paid off for Twitter, with “tweet” being officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Musk’s rebrand has understandably provoked the question: are tweets now called Xs? The answer is yes.

Image from Creative Bloq
Image from X

Twitter’s initial branding felt effortless. Though it followed a fixed theme, it was simple enough that it was never overly dominating. Its consistency also made for a rock-solid brand recognisability over the 16 years that it existed as Twitter.

A marker of a powerful logo is one that can be recognised without a need for the brand name to be present. Some of the most distinctive logos of all time, Nike, McDonald’s and Apple have all established recognisability from a mile off, without relying on a brand name. Twitter achieved a similar signature with its bird.

In comparison to such a thoughtful brand identity, Musk’s X comes across as cold, meaningless and disconnected from the larger whole – which has understandably attracted a negative reception that has affected Twitter’s overall reputation.

How to Successfully Pull Off a Rebrand

Despite negative initial reactions to the logo change, the jury is still out on whether Musk has successfully or unsuccessfully pulled off the Twitter/X rebrand. Time will tell whether his proposed ‘everything app’ is, in fact, everything we never knew we needed, or an unnecessary transformation that doesn’t justify the death of Twitter’s beloved blue bird.

Successful branding has historically been consistent and recognisable. Successful rebrandings tend to work best when kept subtle and true to the spirit of the original brand – Musk’s takeover has, intentionally, been anything but.

If you’re a business owner thinking about a rebrand, you may wish to question the reasons for the change, as this will inform the method and extent of your overhaul.

Possible reasons for a rebrand:

  • Merger or acquisition
    • As with the Twitter/X takeover, mergers and acquisitions are usually the reason for a total brand overhaul that changes the name, logo and visual identity. It’s not recommended that you undergo total brand overhauls at this scale without such necessity.
  • Changing audience or product
    • As businesses develop, they may outgrow their branding. Famous examples include Starbucks Coffee becoming just Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts becoming Dunkin’ – see below for a deeper dive into how this can be masterfully executed.
  • Outdated design or name
    • This is an eventuality you want to avoid and can signify that your logo or brand name wasn’t timeless enough in the first place. For example, Apple has rocked the same logo since 1976 since its simple design has aged like a fine wine. As a result of this, it is now one of the most recognisable logos of all time.
    • At the other end of the spectrum, we have Pepsi. In its 122-year existence, it’s gone through a whopping thirteen rebrands. Due to its indecisive shapeshifting tendencies, the brand lacks the same instant recognisability that its key competitor Coca-Cola has in spades.

Colour Theory

Musk’s decision to overhaul Twitter’s visual identity can be analysed from the perspective of colour theory. It was no accident that Twitter’s previous visual identity was always blue. Blue is the go-to colour for tech companies (Facebook, Microsoft etc.) as it traditionally signifies communication, trust and reliability. Black on the other hand has a far more sinister association. The colour of mourning in many cultures, it’s also associated with evil, power and the unknown. Do with that information what you will.

To successfully pull off a rebrand, it’s wise to first consider your reasoning as it can often work against your business’ recognisability, especially if it’s in its infancy. For smaller businesses, rebranding for purely cosmetic reasons doesn’t always justify a reduction in brand recognition that may come from the change. If you’re changing your core business operations or mission and this necessitates changes in your visual identity, it’s smart to work with the same colour scheme and keep the essence of your logo in line with your existing look and feel, to maintain maximum recognisability with your audience.

Case Study

In 2019, Dunkin’ Donuts officially became Dunkin’. In an ever-so-subtle rebrand, the company dropped half of its name. The rationale behind dropping the ‘donuts’ was to diversify the brand and expand into the on-the-go beverage market, rather than being seen as solely a donut shop.

Image from Dunkin'

Dunkin’ subtly and tastefully updated its logo to account for the rebranding by switching to a type-only logo, the apostrophe in the same shade of pink hinting at what has now been abbreviated. This small yet effective change means that Dunkin’ has achieved its goal of widening its horizons into a new market without alienating its existing customer base or losing its original legacy. The agency responsible for this successful rebrand is Jones Knowles Ritchie, which has worked on brand identity for numerous global brands including Burger King, Budweiser and Heinz.

Expert Opinion

“The Twitter rebrand to ‘X’ is a bold move, but from the outside looking in, it feels a bit like a car crash. They have taken their most distinctive asset, the tweet, and essentially killed it. From a branding perspective, they have literally ripped up the rule book on building distinctiveness.

However, rebrands are rarely ever met with complete approval from all parties – especially consumer bases that have had a long history with the brand. Even when it came to JKR’s rebrand of Dunkin’, where we dropped the ‘donuts’ from the name, some consumers were quick to disapprove, while others loved it.  

There could very well be a larger plan for ‘X’ where the brand equity they have built to date is no longer valued or needed. Until we know the full scale of the strategy behind it and what it will look like moving forward, it’s hard to make judgements.  

At JKR, we focus on elevating what is ownable and true to your brand, leveraging it as a red thread throughout the entire brand experience. Whether that’s extensive consumer research to help us land on a version of the Burger King logo inspired from the past, or dropping the Donuts from Dunkin’, we always make sure that our brand work is not only timely and culturally relevant but also timeless and truly ownable to your brand. For us, these are the most essential elements of rebranding.”

– Sandra Peat, Strategy Partner, JKR


While Elon Musk’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Twitter is not an exact equivalent for the average small business seeking a rebrand, the demise of Twitter’s bird has attracted a newfound appreciation for the simplicity, yet thoughtfulness, of the iconic brand identity. It also serves as somewhat of a cautionary tale for businesses considering an overhaul of their visual identity. Twitter’s drastic overnight rebranding has led to negative audience reception, a significant drop in the company’s value and a potential shift in market dominance from Zuckerberg’s rival platform, Threads.

Therefore, the power of a strong and recognisable logo should not be underestimated as it plays a vital role in maintaining a brand’s reputation and relationship with its audience. If contemplating a rebrand, business owners should carefully assess the reasons behind the change and apply an intentional yet subtle approach that aligns with their core values and operations. Twitter’s example highlights the significance of preserving brand consistency, something which is even more crucial for businesses in the early stages of growth looking to build and retain trust with their customers.

Written by:
Alice is one of Expert Market's resident software experts, helping businesses improve their efficiency or reach, with an emphasis on productivity software, CRM and telecommunications.