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What U2’s Free Album Launch Taught Me About Marketing


When U2 released their new album as a free download in iTunes, they got the marketing right – but they got a lot more wrong.

How does an Irish rock band teach us something about marketing?

In case you have been taking a hiatus from your technology, the long anticipated launch of the newest iPhone and iOS 8, for all things Apple, was released September 19, 2014. Splashy commercials and block-long line-ups followed the release, but that’s what we have come to expect from such an event.

New this time around is U2, the enduring rockers who had their heyday in the 1980s. They joined in on the iPhone 6 and iOS 8’s newest release by lending their sound to Apple’s commercials, as well as offered their newest album as a free download – available exclusively in Apple’s iTunes.

This is where the wheels fall off. 

Apple randomly selected those who would automatically receive the free U2 album download and forced the 11-track album into the selected user’s iTunes account. You read right – they put U2’s album right into people’s accounts.

So, what’s wrong with that – it’s free! Yes, it’s free – but those who have automatic downloading enabled discovered music that they didn’t expect and some that didn’t event want it.

Where the marketing lesson is learned.

My teenage daughter looked at her phone the morning of the launch and asked me “Who the heck is U2 and how did their music get on my phone?” See, Apple can easily identify people’s musical tastes by their download history. At the risk of revealing my age, if Apple had been really thinking, they would have pushed this content to targeted people – those people who like 80s music and who like the band – as identified by buying history. I was one of the happy recipients; being hopelessly hooked on 80s music. I like U2.

Shotgun approach.

What Apple did by not segmenting the target audience was the old “Spray and Pray” approach to the launch. Some people will like it…other people, not so much. Some people got really angry.

The negativity surrounding this launch overshadowed the fact that the band finally has a new album. In my opinion, if the free album had been targeted to the right audience, the buzz would have been favourable and would have created the hype for others to get their copy of the free download. Instead, the media covered the fact that it was thrust into accounts without permission and without interest. And those who do digital marketing well understand that permission is paramount.

I’m sure they thought this blanket approach would expand their fan base by exposing the band to new listeners. You can force music into a device, but you can’t, however, make them listen to it.

Your take away

When you promote your product or service, even if you are giving it away, it has to be directed at the people who have a need or a want for it. That’s Target Marketing 101. Identify that audience by pre-determined characteristics that make them a good fit for your business. The “Spray and Pray” method is not feasible – most small businesses don’t have the deep pockets of Apple Inc. behind them.

Love it or hate it? What did you think of U2’s free download album launch?
Leave your comments below.

If you need help reaching your target market, Hip Mama Communications is here to help. Ask us how at 519-791-7061 or dawn@hipmama.ca


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