Lost in Translation
Updated: Aug 20
The magnitude of a mistake is often equal to the scale of the endeavor. By this standard, the decision by Twitter to rebrand as X.com must rank as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of business. This decision, This decision, which I can only assume is the result of long buried and unexamined resentment over a bad idea long dismissed by contemporaries, is not only baffling in its own right, but it is also an instance of a broader phenomenon that is all too common: misunderstanding the significance of branding and the potency of iconography.
What is iconography? It's the study and interpretation of images and symbols, a discipline that crosses over into everything from art history to semiotics. In the context of branding, iconography involves the careful crafting of symbols, logos, and names to create a distinct and recognizable identity that communicates the essence of a company. The bird logo and the name "Twitter" were an iconic pairing that communicated simplicity, brevity, and speed – everything that Twitter represented to its user base. A tweet, like a bird's call, is short, sharp, and immediate. Its impact lies in its succinctness.
Now consider "X.com". What does it convey? X is the algebraic symbol for an unknown quantity, used to represent something that's not yet defined. This might seem fitting for a startup still exploring its product-market fit (although probably not,) but not for a mature platform like Twitter. Is the idea that X.com might represent anything and everything? If so, the attempt to convey ubiquity only succeeds in communicating nothing at all.
Perhaps, one might argue, the X.com rebrand is intended to reflect Twitter's broader ambitions to become an "everything app", a one-stop-shop for communication, information, and commerce. Even then, the name change falls short. In this case, the strength of the Twitter brand and its associated iconography could have enhanced this new overarching narrative, much like how a chapter adds to the overall story of a book. Strong sub-brands like "Twitter" could have been leveraged as a portfolio of services under the X.com umbrella, adding credibility and a sense of familiarity to the new venture.
Instead, the rebranding has created an unnecessary disruption. The company has essentially discarded an asset that took over a decade to build and is now left with a generic moniker that communicates nothing to its users or the wider public.
Branding is not just about designing logos or creating catchy names. It's about telling a story. Every successful brand tells a compelling story that resonates with its audience, and the best brands become stories in themselves. "Twitter" was not just a communication platform; it was a global stage, a public square, a worldwide water cooler. Its story was one of immediacy and connectivity. The rebrand to X.com is like trying to rewrite that story halfway through, changing the characters, setting, and plot without rhyme or reason.
The decision to change Twitter to X.com is a perfect example of the fallacy that a brand is just a logo and a name. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the philosophy of iconography and the power of a strong brand. It's a move that is not only confusing and alienating to users but also serves as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of losing sight of what your brand represents and the story it tells.
One of the most essential roles of a company's leadership is to protect and nurture its brand. If the leadership of X.com (formerly Twitter) had fully grasped the implications of their decision, they might have been able to avoid making one of the worst branding decisions in history. Unfortunately, it seems that they have underestimated the importance of their own story and the iconic nature of the brand they once had.
If we look at our increasingly symbol-oriented world, we'll see the missed opportunity for Twitter in a rebrand to X.com, more vividly. The digital age has only increased the importance of iconography and symbology. Memes, emojis, and icons are all part of a new visual language that communicates complex ideas and emotions with striking immediacy. This visual shift has been accompanied by a profound psychological change, a concept that would not have been lost on Carl Jung.
Jung, a pioneer of psychoanalysis, developed the concept of archetypes – the universal symbols and themes that reside in what he called the "collective unconscious". For Jung, symbols are not just abstract ideas, but deeply ingrained constructs that help us navigate our world. These archetypes find expression in our myths, our religions, and our dreams, but they are equally evident in the symbols of the modern, digital age.
When a symbol or an archetype resonates, it's because it taps into something deep within our collective psyche. Twitter's bird, a common archetype, embodied freedom, agility, and communication. It tapped into a universal understanding that transcended cultural and linguistic barriers. This is the power of well-chosen iconography – it leverages our shared understanding of symbols to communicate its essence in an intuitive and immediate way.
In his book "Man and His Symbols", Jung famously said, "Man... is the only creature who can boast of having one foot in the 'animal' kingdom and the other in the 'spiritual' kingdom, or realm of the archetypes." This insight provides us with a profound understanding of human nature, which is equally applicable to the brands and symbols that weave the tapestry of our lives. We inhabit a world teeming with symbols, where brands transcend the realm of commercial entities; they are an essential part of our shared mythology and spiritual realm.
In transitioning to X.com, a name stripped of any archetypal significance, Twitter severed its ties to the spiritual realm of the archetypes and stepped back into a symbolically barren wilderness. The bird, once soaring high, spreading messages across the globe, is no longer in flight. In its place, we grapple with the X, an algebraic placeholder, a barren symbol awaiting an infusion of meaning.
In a world where symbolism holds more sway than ever, the decision to cast aside the powerful, globally recognized brand of Twitter for the insipid X.com represents a profound misapprehension of the fundamental nature of humanity. It reflects a distancing from the rich language of symbols that our psyche instinctively comprehends, and a dismissal of the deep psychological insights offered by thinkers like Jung. This error is more than strategic; it reflects a startling disregard for the symbolic and mythological needs that are intrinsic to human nature. We are, after all, creatures with one foot in the spiritual kingdom of archetypes.
The rebranding misstep of Twitter's transformation into X.com is a reminder of the risks involved when we dismiss the symbolic resonances of a brand. But rather than dwell on this particular disaster, let's consider this as a wake-up call, a lesson learned, a push toward a more enlightened understanding of the profound role that a brand and that symbols play in shaping and reshaping the collective consciousness.
Recognizing the vital role of symbols is not just about successful branding; it's about understanding our shared human condition. This is often exploited by corporations (either consciously or unconsciously) trying to make money with products that lack value, or are even harmful.
In a rapidly changing world, symbols can offer constancy and connection, giving us something familiar to hold onto, anchoring us amidst the flux. They reflect our desires, our fears, our values, and our aspirations, serving as cultural compass points that guide us forward. To create brands and systems of symbols that resonate with this deep-seated human need for meaning is not just good business—it has the potential to become a social good.
We have the opportunity, even the obligation, to create brands that are more than mere commercial entities. Brands can be lighthouses, projecting a beam of symbolism that guides us towards a shared vision of the future. They can help us navigate the vast ocean of the digital age, giving us a sense of direction, a purpose, a connection to something larger than ourselves. They can foster a sense of community, provide a touchstone of shared values, and even inspire us to aspire towards a better world.
With every brand we build, every symbol we create, we have the power to shape our collective narrative. As we stand on the precipice of an increasingly digital future, let's seize this opportunity to imbue our brands with meaning, to create systems of symbols that resonate with our shared human experience, and to propel humanity forward into a future rich with purpose and connection. The symbolic landscape of the future is ours to define.
Let's draw on the wisdom of the past, the insight of thinkers like Jung, and the unfortunate example of Twitter's transition to X.com, to guide our way towards a future that respects our need for symbols, celebrates our shared narratives, and empowers us to craft a collective mythology that drives us ever onwards, towards a world imbued with meaning and promise.