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The “X” Factor: the Quantitative Semiotics of Twitter’s Rebrand

July 26, 2023by Andy Dexter

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Twitter has been rebranded to “X”, seemingly on a whim. It may be a disaster, or it may be a stroke of genius. Time will tell. But there are serious danger signs.

We don’t personally have a lot of emotional investment in Twitter aside from the occasional guilty pleasure of doomscrolling the horror. And of course having analysed over 50,000,000 Tweets in the last couple of years for a variety of clients.

But we do have a very strong interest in quantitative semiotics via Signoi. It’s the sort of thing we deploy on all sorts of visuals, from Instagram, to Pinterest, to adverts, to pack shots, to logos and more.

And based on this, we have a view. The rebrand is objectively doomed. Quantitative semiotics says so.

Deploying Quantitative Semiotics

As we know, semiotics is the art and science of ‘signs’ – the intrinsic properties of imagery that resonate with us, and what feelings they elicit. It’s therefore about what imagery is transmitting to people, what it intuitively means. It’s traditionally been done by human experts at small scale.

Quantitative Semiotics is Signoi’s wheelhouse. The software uses machine learning and new AI metrics to analyse imagery at scale and pace, consistently, without human intervention. It surfaces measures of meaning, and you can deploy it on one image to hundreds of thousands.

So we took the old bird logo and the new “X” logo and ran them through our software to see what it had to say. We also deployed our algorithms onto the Xbox logo – after all, it has an “X” in it, so how different could it be?

Here’s what it said about them.

From Playfulness to Power

First, Archetype profiles. Jung’s well known framework of characters can help define what brands stand for and the roles they play. There are 12 that are commonly used as a starting point, and they are well established in the world of branding.

For starters, the rebrand immediately shifts Twitter/X from a more playful positioning in terms of transmissions (Explorer, Rebel, Joker) to a very clear RULER archetype. Whereas The Explorer is often seen as a symbol of the desire for adventure, discovery, and exploration, the Ruler represents the power, control, and authority.

We speculate, but it does seem quite likely that this is exactly what Mr Musk is drawn to…

Archetype Analysis

It’s also noticeable that the Xbox transmissions are (notwithstanding the “X”-iness of it) much softer, more nuanced, more reassuring, and more accessible. Caregiver offers reassurance; Innocent brings optimism; Everyman connotes accessibility, and Creator brings a signal of innovation. The absence of Ruler codes is notable.

So the new Twitter – sorry, “X” – is now shouting RULER at us in big bold CaPiTaL lEtTeRs… 

Semiotically, this could be a reassuring thing: Ruler codes could offer us protection, safety, order and trust. 


Understanding the Subtler Energies

Going beyond that, Signoi extracts a whole host of detailed metrics and associations (we call them ‘energies’). There are positive energies and there are negative (shadow) energies. Most images will have some kind of balance of these, but a skew towards more positive or negative transmissions.

In this context it’s clear (see below) that the underpinning of RULER in this logo are not so much about protection, safety, order, and trust, but more about threat, vulnerability, danger, and disempowerment. Protection and security do come through as positives, but at a weaker level of transmission. Contrast this with the old Twitter logo: fun, self-expressive, liberating.

In sum:

  • Old logo: lots of positive associations on our metrics, with very few negatives.
  • New logo: speaks to all sorts of nightmarish things that frankly we don’t often see surface with logos or pack testing.

As for the Xbox vs “X” dynamic, notwithstanding all that X-iness it’s clear that the Xbox execution (as mentioned before) is bringing much more reassuring codes – a playful and communitarian X, not an aggressive and divisive X.

In the interests of fairness, we also tested the white-backgrounded version of the “X” logo. The inversion of colours certainly makes it a bit less threatening, with more “trust” and “safety” signifiers of the Ruler dimension creeping into play. Better – but still, overall not so positive.

In sum…

So leaving aside the bigger question of “why would you randomly rebrand something with so much intrinsic equity, that’s become part of the cultural vernacular…?” the point is that the concept and execution seems almost designed to scare and alienate people.  Indeed, could this even be the point? To speak to the vulnerable, the threatened, the alienated? To convey a kind of authoritarian message?

Well our guess is that it’s probably not that well thought out.

We’re also fairly sure Mr Musk doesn’t care one jot about what our AI thinks of it. However, other people might, right?

Anyway, it could always be worse! Just add a splash of colour and we’re done! We’ll just leave this variant here without further comment…

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We’ll be writing more on this and other AI related subjects shortly, meanwhile please do get in touch if you found this interesting…

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