Just what was the point of Elon Musk's 'non-practical' submarine rescue effort in Thailand?

Just what was the point of Elon Musk's 'non-practical' submarine rescue effort in Thailand?

elon musk submarine

Elon Musk/Twitter

Elon Musk's team tests its submarine by simulating a narrow passage in a pool, July 8, 2018.

  • For the past two weeks, the world fixated on the rescue mission of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave in Thailand. Officials noted that it was a life-or-death situation for the soccer team and the rescue team on the ground.
  • While Thai Navy SEALs and many volunteers worked to retrieve the boys safely, Elon Musk tweeted about his "kid-sized submarine" that the rescuers could use over the past few days.
  • Thai officials said that the submarine was "not practical," and by the time it arrived, most of the boys were out of the cave.
  • Musk has a history of using Twitter as free advertising for SpaceX, Tesla, and the Boring Company. It's possible that the submarine project served the same purpose, regardless of Musk's intentions.

Elon Musk - CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company - is known for not spending a cent on advertising.

Instead, as marketing consultant Sushovan Bej put it, his companies "let you and I discuss it, rave about it, hate on it, or rejoice in the spirit of going electric in a Tesla - be the catalyst to a viral and brilliant marketing campaign."

That's why it was curious when Musk spent the last four days tweeting about SpaceX and the Boring Company's efforts to build a "kid-sized submarine." Posting photos of "beautiful" caves and updates on the creation of the device, he said the Thai government could use the submarine to rescue the 12 boys and soccer coach trapped in a Thailand cave.

By the time Musk had executed his vision and arrived in Thailand to test it, however, Thai Navy SEALs had already rescued most of the boys. On Tuesday, the SEALs announced that, after days of hard work, they had retrieved the entire team and their coach. Although Musk did not aid the SEALs in their mission, a number of people on Twitter have thanked the billionaire for his efforts.


Thai officials now tell reporters that while they appreciate Musk's enthusiasm, the submarine was "not practical." Other local, expert divers have also noted that the rocket-powered machine would likely have a hard time fitting through the smallest parts of the cave (as narrow as 14 inches at one point).

So then, what exactly was the point of Musk promoting (and defending) his submarine project?

To encourage a waterfall of media coverage about his brilliant ideas? To bury recent bad press about pay inequity, accusations against a female reporter, and widespread layoffs at Tesla? To capitalize on the world's attention on the rescue? To facilitate a narrative of himself as a savior? To bump his companies' own valuation?

Musk has seen profits from his tweets before. As CNN reported in 2014, Tesla shares went up nearly 6% - totaling about $2 billion - in the week after Musk tweeted that it "was time to unveil the D and something else." The mysterious tweet may have hinted that the car company planned to reveal an all-wheel drive or dual motor version of the Model S or new driverless technology. More recently, in April 2018, Tesla shares also jumped after Musk tweeted that the company will be profitable and cash-flow positive in the third quarter, CNBC reported.

Most of the world will not remember the names of the Thai SEALs who risked their lives on the ground to save the soccer team. But they will remember Musk.