It’s ‘pathological’ for brands to advertise on Elon Musk’s X, says Yale professor

By Chicago 5 Min Read


According to Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, brands are being “irresponsible” by continuing to advertise on Elon Musk’s X after the billionaire endorsed anti-Semitic views.

“It is self-destructive for any advertiser to be associated with him. He is pathological,” Sonnenfeld, dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, told CNN in a phone interview.

Musk sparked another round of controversy last week agree with an anti-semitic post on X who claimed that Jewish communities pushed “anti-white hatred”. Musk responded by saying, “You told the truth.”

Some major brands have suspended advertising on X (formerly known as Twitter), including Disney, NBCUniversal and CNN owner Warner Bros. Discovery. Those advertisers did not specifically say the decision was linked to Musk’s post, although some of their ads were found to be placed near anti-Semitic posts on X, according to a report. report by the progressive watchdog group Media Matters.

“There should be no public company advertising on Twitter. You can’t have someone who supports the substitution theory and be associated with it,” Sonnenfeld said. (Substitution theory, popularized in far-right white nationalist circles, claims that democrats and liberals are plotting to import undocumented immigrants to reduce white political power.)

Joe Benarroch, X’s head of business operations, responded by telling CNN in an email: “Jeffrey Sonnenfeld must not believe in free speech.”

In a blog post on Friday, X accused Media Matters of aggressively seeking out pro-Nazi content in a way that “misrepresented the actual user experience” and could “mislead advertisers.” Musk has also filed a lawsuit against Media Matters, a legal battle the group says it can win.

The backlash from advertisers is putting even more financial pressure on X at a time when the social media platform is struggling. And it’s causing another huge headache for X CEO Linda Yaccarino, the former NBCUniversal executive who joined the company earlier this year to help boost its advertising business.

“Linda Yaccarino should resign,” Sonnenfeld said in the interview. “As talented as she is, unless you can force her (Musk) to retract her words, which she won’t do, she should give up.”

Some advertisers are trying to get Yaccarino to do just that.

Marketing industry veteran Lou Paskalis previously told CNN there was a wave of advertising executives urging Yaccarino to resign.

However, Yaccarino has made it clear that he has no intention of giving up, publication Monday morning: “I believe deeply in our vision, our team and our community.”

Nell Minow, vice president of ValueEdge Advisors, which advises institutional investors on corporate governance, argues that the free market will solve the mess at X.

“This is a perfect opportunity for the market to do what it does best,” Minow said. “If advertisers don’t want to place an ad in an environment that doesn’t enhance their product, they will withdraw. It’s like: Do you want your ads to run in Time Magazine or Hustler?

Even though X is no longer a public company, Minow said there could still be consequences for Musk.

“If other investors and those holding the debt start to feel uncertain about the financial outlook, they will hold him accountable,” Minow said.

Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said brands don’t need to “completely agree” with a media property and its policies to advertise there.

However, Calkins said it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate Musk from X’s controversial comments and noted concerns about how the social media platform polices content.

“The last thing a brand wants is to spend money to unintentionally get dragged into a polarizing topic,” Calkins said.

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