FRIDAY 21 JUN 2024 4:22 PM


The US billionaire and X owner flew to Cannes Lions festival this weekend to win back brands, months after insulting advertising industry.

US billionaire and X owner Elon Musk landed in the Côte d'Azur this week, where pale waves lapped white beaches, boats tinkered in somnambulant slumber and thousands of the industry’s chief marketing officers, tech leaders and creative workers from around the world were gathered at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Musk's interview with WPP CEO Mark Read was a last-minute addition to the programme, and Musk adopted a convivial and good-natured tone from the stage as festival attendees, who had freed-up their schedules, crammed into the theatre and craned their necks to see him.

Unsurprisingly, Musk was on his best behaviour: he wasn’t there to inspire creativity, but to make friends. Only seven months prior, the X CEO had told advertisers pulling their ads from the social media platform to “go f­uck yourself”.

“Back in November, you had a message to us. You told us to go fuck ourselves,” Read began. “Why did you say that? And what did you mean by that?”

Musk responded that it was not for the advertising industry collectively, describing a distinction between ads he liked and those he classed as spam. “It was with respect to freedom of speech,” he said. “Advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands. That’s totally fine. What is not cool is insisting that there can be no content that they disagree with on the platform.”

In November, X was grappling with the departure of several large advertisers following a Twitter post from Musk appearing to promote an antisemitic conspiracy theory. When asked by Read whether he regretted anything he has said on the platform, Musk replied: “It’s authentic, it’s not PR. It’s better to be real.”

From the subject of authenticity Read moved onto discussing AI, a topic Musk clearly felt more comfortable with. Musk described how X has been working to overhaul its abilities to match its users with ads using AI and, for advertisers who were not on the platform but contemplating a return, Musk said it was “worth trying out.”

“We are very focused on having ads be shown to people who would find the ad interesting,” he said. “That is something we have done and are making a lot of progress on.”

He added that the platform was still popular with the likes of world leaders. “If you’re trying to reach senior decision makers, if you want to reach the most influential people in the world…the X platform is by far the best.”