Elon Promises Twitter Blue Subscribers Will See Half the Ads Normies Do

As new data points to an ad business and user growth in free fall, there may not be many ads to cut in the first place.

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The Twitter logo on a phone
Photo: A9 STUDIO (Shutterstock)

Twitter may be the one place online where you might be seeing fewer ads in the future—assuming you cough up $8 a month. Elon Musk tweeted late Monday that Twitter Blue subscribers “will have half the number of ads,” and said the company will offer an even more expensive tier for the site that’s totally ad-free in 2023.

The vast majority, roughly 90%, of Twitter’s revenue comes from marketing dollars. What Musk isn’t saying is Twitter faces such a crisis that he may not have many ads to cut in the first place. Twitter’s advertising business is in free fall. Compared to last year, traffic to the company’s ad management tool, which advertisers use to control the Twitter ad campaigns they buy, dropped 75% in October and then 85% in November, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal. That suggests reports of the mass exodus of Twitter’s advertisers may be even worse than they seem, and far more grim than Musk wants the public to believe. Details are hard to come by, but leaked internal conversations suggest Twitter’s ad problems are a disaster behind the scenes.

Worse, users may follow Twitter advertisers out the door. Insider Intelligence forecasts that Twitter will lose 32 million users by 2024. Musk claims the company is doing record numbers, but according to Insider, user growth was essentially flat in 2022, and it’s predicted to fall off a cliff in the near future.

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Twitter, which reportedly doesn’t have a communications department, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Musk initially responded to the news of fleeing advertisers with angry tweets and threats of a “name and shame” campaign. He accused advertisers of caving to a mob of anti-free speech activists, calling out Apple in particular and simultaneously admitting that Twitter was losing $4 million a day. But shortly thereafter, the embattled CEO changed his tune. Musk went as far as to thank advertisers for returning to the platform over the weekend. In early December, he also said that Apple had restarted its advertising campaigns (though data suggests Apple never even stopped advertising in the first place).

Elon’s PR strategy isn’t exactly consistent, but right now his answer to business concerns seems to be that everything is just fine, thanks for asking. Looking beyond the billionaire’s tweets, however, the company seems desperate.

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Twitter is so eager to win back advertisers that it launched a bizarre buy-one-get-one-free sale. The company says it will match up to $1 million dollars for any advertiser that books more than $500,000 worth of ads, an unprecedented offer for a mature tech company.

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Convincing advertisers to return to Twitter is probably a tough sell, as companies’ fears about brand safety are coming true. After welcoming back tens of thousands of banned accounts in a “general amnesty” that included violent neo-Nazis, Twitter ran ads on the profiles of white nationalists for organizations including Amazon, Uber and US government agencies

Despite Musk’s reassurances, buying an ad on Twitter may amount to a gamble that your marketing pitch isn’t going to run next racial, anti-trans, or homophobic slurs. Hate speech has skyrocketed on Twitter according to recent analyses, amounting to an unprecedented rise in racial and anti-LGBT slurs, a problem that was worsening precisely when Musk said it was getting better.

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If Elon follows through on his promise to show fewer ads to Twitter Blue subscribers—and that’s a big “if,” given his track record—it may just be the billionaire acting on impulse. But it’s also possible that we’re seeing the platform grasping for an entirely new business model amidst an uncertain advertising future. No matter how many people sign up, the proceeds from accounts paying $8 a month remains unlikely to make up for a significant loss in advertising revenue. That’s especially true if predictions about a declining user base come to fruition. But if the advertising trend continues, Elon is going to have to come up with something.

Musk famously follows his whims, even when it comes to major business decisions. That strategy carried him through a series of victories at his other companies, but so far, his intuition has not solved Twitter’s major problems.