Lucy Shelley
Jun 20, 2024

Elon Musk on artistic ads, 'foolish' posts and telling advertisers to go F themselves

The chief technology officer at X told WPP's Mark Read advertisers were 'insisting on censorship' at the time that he unleashed an expletive-led response to them.

Elon Musk (left) and Mark Read (right) at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2024
Elon Musk (left) and Mark Read (right) at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2024

Elon Musk, chief technology officer and the owner of X (formerly Twitter), has stood by his previous comments on advertisers, insisting he will "choose free speech rather than agreeing to be censored for money".

In a conversation with WPP chief executive Mark Read in Cannes, Musk was asked about comments he made last November when he told advertisers to "go f**k yourselves".

In the most-attended session so far at the Festival of Creativity, Musk said: “It wasn’t advertisers as a whole, it was with respect to freedom of speech. In some cases, advertisers were insisting on censorship.” 

He said if it was a choice between “censorship and money or free speech and losing money, we’re going to choose free speech rather than agreeing to be censored for money. Which is, I think, the right decision.

“Advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands. That's the choice of an advertiser to appear next to content that they think fits with the brand. That's totally cool. But what’s not cool is insisting that there can be no content that they disagree with on the platform.”

Queues of delegates snaked around the Palais to see the two titans of advertising and tech talk about AI and creativity.

Read walked on stage with the controversial figure and in his introduction said: “No, I don’t agree with Elon on everything.”

Asked about the value of advertising, Musk said: “The usefulness of advertising varies dramatically.

“If you’re seeing an ad for a product or service that you want, it’s content. If you see an ad for a product or service that you don’t want, that’s bad. So, the advertising is dependent on how effectively it is targeted to the wants and needs of the individual. 

“I'm actually a fan of advertising that’s artistically interesting."

He said the acid test for an ad is asking yourself: "Do you regret seeing it?"

Read asked whether Musk would eventually feel the pressure to compromise on free speech for money on the X platform. Musk responded: “Free speech is the bedrock of democracy. In order for X to be the public square of the world, it’s really got to be a free speech platform. 

“That doesn’t mean that people can say anything illegal on X – it’s free speech within the bounds of the law, but not further than the law in a particular country. I think it’s imperative that people have the right to speak."

Read also questioned Musk on the importance of brand safety. He replied: “I believe in the freedom of choice.” 

Asked whether he regretted any posts he had made on X, Musk said: “I do shoot myself in the foot. If you’re a normal human being that’s able to speak freely, they’ll be times that are foolish, of course. But if you’re constantly going through a filter, you’re not being real. I guess it’s better to be real.”

Campaign UK

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