Top advertisers privately debate his ‘racist rhetoric’ before meeting Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s appearance at a major marketing conference next week has spooked top advertising executives at some of America’s biggest companies.

Musk is scheduled to speak April 18 at MMA Global’s Possible conference, the premier digital marketing association. He will be interviewed by Linda Yaccarino, NBCU’s head of advertising, and will argue that advertisers – who have abandoned Twitter because they don’t believe it’s a safe place to advertise – should come back.

But a private thread among the organisation’s board members, obtained by Semafor, suggests he will face a skeptical public. Major advertisers, including McDonald’s and Colgate-Palmolive, fear Musk’s comments about race and the platform’s openness to racist speech have made Twitter toxic.

“For many communities, his willingness to leverage success and personal financial resources to advance an agenda under the guise of free speech perpetuates the resulting racism [in] direct threats to their communities and the potential for brand safety compromises that we should all be concerned about,” wrote Tariq Hassan, director of marketing and customer experience at McDonald’s. “Additionally, all of us who lead our brand investments across all platforms have had to navigate a post-acquisition situation that objectively can only be characterized as ranging from chaos to moments of irresponsibility.”

Colgate-Palmolive vice president and general manager of customer experience and growth, Diana Haussling, wrote to the group that she was “both thrilled with the success of the conference while being aware of the harmful rhetoric and often racist of Elon Musk”.

“While I am a strong supporter of free speech and enterprise, we cannot ignore the impact of such hate speech. I especially cannot ignore it as a black woman” , she wrote.

Senior vice president of retail media at grocery giant Albertsons, Kristi Argyilan, wrote that if event moderators didn’t strike the right balance, she was “concerned about the reputational risk to MMA. ” but “even more concerned about the harm or hurt this could cause anyone in our community.

“By giving Elon Musk a stage, we have committed to brokering an important discussion that must be handled with the utmost care and respect for those who are most harmed by his actions and inactions,” he said. -she writes.

While the executives did not specify what they were referring to, last month Musk defended Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, after calling black Americans a “hate group,” and saying the media is racist against whites and Asians.

In a sign of Twitter’s precarious standing with marketers, a senior Twitter executive on the wire didn’t even attempt to defend Musk.

Twitter’s vice president of global sales and marketing, Chris Riedy, instead thanked the group for their candid comments and offered to hold private meetings with the billionaire.

“Twitter needs each of you and your feedback is critical in shaping what the company can become – Elon will be in Miami for most of Tuesday and wants to hear from you,” he said. . “To that end, and in an effort to foster the healthiest conversation possible and give each of you the opportunity to speak directly to him, how about getting this group together with Elon immediately after the session with Linda ?”

The interview could also put Yaccarino, a senior publicity executive, in the somewhat difficult position of playing the role of a hard-hitting reporter. In recent days, she and NBCUniversal have been seeking member feedback on potential questions for Musk. NBCU Global Advertising and Partnerships Executive Vice President Joe Benarroch said in an email that “we have a responsibility to foster open dialogue and balanced debate.”

In an interview on Thursday, MMA CEO Greg Stuart said most members were excited about Musk’s appearance and that it was normal for board members to debate topics, saying most of them are “definitely not shy, shrinking violets”. These are people who give opinions.

“The overwhelming response to Elon has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “We need to hear what he’s doing.”

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