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Brand Musk: is all news really good news?

Warren Linsdell Director, Media 12/12/2022
Up until the saga of the Twitter takeover unfolded, Musk was probably best known as the ‘driving’ force behind Tesla cars, outside of his plans to inhabit Mars in the foreseeable future.

Brand Musk…No, not the aftershave you might find wrapped under the tree on Christmas day.

Prior to becoming one of the most talked about brand buyouts in decades, Elon Musk was probably thought of as a being a slightly eccentric but single minded entrepreneurial high achiever, and then some. Since then, the media has delved deeper into his personality and his foibles are now being painted in a less than favourable light.

Up until the saga of the Twitter takeover unfolded, Musk was probably best known as the ‘driving’ force behind Tesla cars, outside of his plans to inhabit Mars in the foreseeable future.

During 2022, Tesla stock prices steadily slumped to a two year low, due in part to the global economic crisis and Musk himself offloading a sizeable chunk to fund his purchase of Twitter. More recently investors have been seen to lose faith in the Tesla brand resulting from the distractions brought about by the Twitter takeover.

We recently shared some data from BrandVue, Savanta’s daily brand tracking tool, that showed a more than coincidental increase in Negative Buzz around Twitter shortly after Musk announced he wanted to buy the brand. Perhaps not another coincidence, but the same thing happened for Tesla, albeit not hitting quite the same spike that Twitter is now seeing (maybe Tesla staff haven’t yet been encouraged to sleep at their place of work!).

Although not receiving anything like the same amount of coverage, stories have been regurgitated around Tesla car safety issues and manufacturing waste management processes, which may not have been brought up again if it wasn’t for Twitter having been forced onto headline news. Since October, what we’re now seeing is Brand Preference for Tesla falling sharply– at the same time Twitter finally came under Musk’s control. Coincidence?

Perhaps more concerning for the brand is the number of people saying they would never consider purchasing Tesla is steadily on the rise.

Among those who have heard of Elon Musk, but don’t know him well, ‘friendly’ is possibly not an adjective that would spring to mind if asked to describe him, particularly given the way he is being portrayed in the news. Those that do know him well may feel the same way. That is starting to play out in what people think about the brand.

Having once been a ground breaker at the forefront of the electric car developmental revolution, it may be that these signs of changing fortunes for Tesla are simply the fallout of other premium automotive brands now being firmly in the mix – incidentally, WhatCar gives a 5 star rating to both the Tesla S and the Porsche Taycan, yet the latter comes in at £20K less. But the timing of what we see in our data suggests other things are playing a part.

What were once two distinct brands, are Twitter and Tesla now just Brand Musk whose fortunes have become intertwined? If you could take the fact he has such a high profile and happens to be the richest man in the world out of the equation, this might highlight the importance of effective brand portfolio management. But you can’t. It does turn the adage that ‘all news is good news’ on its head though.

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