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The ‘improbable impostor’ Elon Musk

In “The improbable impostor Tom Castro” by the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, a gang picks an impersonator who looks nothing like the lost heir to the family whose fortune they are after, betting on a shameless bid to confound them. The story came to mind after Elon Musk dropped his $44 billion bid to buy Twitter.

Now that Musk said he wants out, the purchase agreement is going to court in Delaware. You can follow the case in Matt Levine’s “Money Stuff” newsletter, where you will learn a thing or two about mergers and acquisitions and have a laugh at Twitter’s expense. Levine reckons all possible outcomes are bad for Twitter. Even if Musk ends up paying the $1 billion severance clause in the contract, Twitter is already worth a third less what it was before Musk’s bid.

Photo: Terry White

But what fortune is the richest man in the world after? At Verb we think the Twitter bid looks like a PR campaign not unlike Borges’ gang attempt to gain your trust with its vast ineptitude. Musk runs one of the top Twitter accounts by reach with over 100 million followers, and 90 percent of US reporters use Twitter. Over the last few months, we have learned about Musk’s companies, family, children, proclivity towards cryptocurrencies, libertarian streak, and history. Much like a very famous former Twitter user did a few years ago, Musk has dominated the news cycle. He bid for your attention, and he got it.

When Tesla, the electric carmaker owned by Musk, let go its PR team in 2020, the Public Relations Society of America said it was a bad move to cut media access. In hindsight, there was no need to worry: the Tesla CEO took over the job himself.

You could argue PR is not the best use of a CEO’s time, but at Verb we wouldn’t say that because we like it when CEOs show up. Musk’s fortune is made of Tesla stock, so he has the incentive to make a good use of his time. Today Tesla still has over 70 percent market share in the US after every carmaker in the world announced their electric line-up for this year.

From the WSJ’s “Hyundai and Kia Are Challenging Tesla. Chinese Brands Could Be Next.” Read it with this free link from your friends at Verb.

To gain share from Tesla traditional carmakers need to make electric cars, and that takes a long time. In fact, it would be great for its competition if we all were to forget about Tesla for a couple of years, or three. Thanks to Mr. Musk’s unlikely one-man PR act, that is not happening. If you think that the billion-dollar Twitter termination fee is too much for a PR campaign, consider that according to Statista Ford’s global advertising budget in 2021 was $3.1 billion, and that’s just one of the top seven Tesla competitors today.

But is that plan sustainable? Musk’s PR approach is powerful but blunt. Only part of the exposure goes to Tesla, the spotlight is on Musk himself. Twitter-first campaigns lack nuance and are notoriously polarizing. Already people are swearing off buying a Tesla because of Musk’s politics. This doesn’t matter much now that Tesla is almost the only game in town if you want to buy an electric car, but when rivals ramp up their electric car production it will be time for the improbable impostor to change his act. Keep in mind that Tom Castro first appeared as one of several short stories in a collection called “A Universal History of Infamy.” No matter if he is unmasked in the end; like the mother of the missing heir in Borges’ story, we believe in Musk because we want to believe.

Over 500 Business Leaders and all 50 US Governors Agree

Leaders signed a petition to expand computer science education. Source: CEOs for CS

“This week showed that the United States of America can still act United,” said CEO Hadi Partovi last Thursday after all 50 U.S. governors committed to expand computer science education. The news came shortly after a group of over 500 business leaders signed a petition to update the school curriculum “in each state, for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science.” The campaign was organized by and will continue growing because all organizations are invited to join. You can join yourself here.

A Smithsonian Lens on the Metaverse

As readers, we were elated after Jane Recker of the Smithsonian Magazine reported on The Stolen Art Gallery, the project we’ve been working on at Verb. The magazine which “places a Smithsonian lens on the world” included this quote after reviewing the gallery: the metaverse “will impact industries just as the internet did in the early ’90s and, by extension, it will impact the art world.” It’s a remarkable statement to find in a publication of the Smithsonian Institution, with its 21 museums, 9 research centers and 180 affiliates around the world.