Hopefully, X won’t become the crossbones beneath the skull.
Much ink has been spilled on the audacious moves taken by Elon Musk since he acquired Twitter in October last year. From charging users for the blue check marks to limiting their tweet consumption, Musk has indeed shaken Twitter to its core. Meanwhile, he shows no signs of hitting the brakes anytime soon.
On July 23, Musk sent shock waves across the world by unveiling his plan to ditch the 17-year-old blue bird logo for an “X” (stylized as 𝕏). With the new X logo officially replacing the familiar blue bird on the mobile app, Twitter’s rebrand is no longer Musk’s dream but a reality.
Out of all 26 alphabets, why did Musk choose X over the others? To answer this, we have to turn back the hands of time to the year 2000, when Musk was a 28-year-old in Silicon Valley aspiring to launch an online banking company. Having successfully founded and sold Zip2—a company that supplied city travel guide software to newspapers—for about US$341 million, Musk was all set to use the cash to establish an online banking service for mutual fund management.
Long story short, it was a café waitress who suggested Musk name the service with the letter X when he sought advice from her. The letter has become a hallmark of his ventures since then, stamped on the names of his space exploration company SpaceX, Tesla’s mid-size crossover SUV Model X and AI company X.AI. It’s not surprising, then, that he rebranded Twitter as X following his acquisition. The standalone use of X this time, however, seems to underscore Twitter’s unique standing in Musk’s business portfolio.
X as a business name and logo
By being monosyllabic, “X” is undeniably snappier than Twitter. Yet, from a business standpoint, a company’s name should encapsulate the business’s essence, providing a snapshot of what customers can obtain from its products or services. Now, in three seconds, say what “X” tells you about the company. Struggling? Same here. The randomness of “X” simply makes it mean everything and nothing.
X doesn’t make a good logo either. Many iconic and successful logos to date—like the Nike swoosh and the Apple logo—are simple. Meanwhile, Musk, don’t pop that celebratory champagne for your X logo just yet, as those seemingly simple logos convey powerful messages that align with and reflect the brands’ nature. What is “X” intended to symbolize? The X-Files? Unlikely. Rather, Musk’s goal is to transform the networking site into an “everything app” that encompasses banking and financial services. Producing a sequel to the television series may be his next step, but it’s definitely not what he’s up to right now (or is he?). So, by positioning a letter that shows no direct link to the business as the platform’s name and logo, Musk risks making a mistake.
Trademark lawsuits are coming
Companies, regardless of scale, care about trademarks. As the distinctive signature of a business, trademarks help customers distinguish a company from its rivals. However, when one becomes a commonplace noun or verb (e.g., “Google” something), its distinctiveness will fade, potentially opening the floodgates for other businesses to use the once-exclusive brand name for their own products.
Trademarks never concerned Twitter, but that was before Musk and his letter friend entered the scene. Given the letter’s “distinctiveness”, adopting it as the platform’s name could spark trademark disputes with other companies, making enforcing the trademark akin to mission impossible. Trademark attorney Josh Gerben told Reuters that there are nearly 900 active U.S. trademark registrations that feature the letter X, stretching across a wide range of industries. Although not all of these companies will be able to credibly claim that X is interfering with their brand and litigate, legal battles may still be on the way concerning X as a logo.
In reality, hundreds of companies hold trademarks for different variations of the letter, including some of the big names in the technology industry. Microsoft, for example, has owned an X trademark for its Xbox video gaming brand since 2003. Meta also owns a federal trademark registered in 2019 featuring a blue-and-white letter “X” for its software and social media businesses.
While Gerben highlighted that Microsoft and Meta might only sue if they perceive Twitter’s X as a threat to their meticulously built brand equity, Musk should’ve prepared for the legal headaches by the time he decided on the name.
The way forward for X is now anyone’s guess. Its success, at its core, hinges on both existing and new users’ adaptability and acceptability to the new image and any modifications that may subsequently surface—say, when tweets are no longer called “tweets”. In response to a question asking how tweets will be called following Twitter’s rebranding to X, Musk responded “x’s”. Despite its originality, “x’s” appear more in line with a string of letters (xxxxx) than a tweet or a post. Though it remains to be seen if users are satisfied with Musk’s answer, they surely need an adjustment period to X.
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Header image courtesy of Flickr and Twitter’s official website