Lessons from U2’s iTunes blunder.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

Back in September, at the iPhone and Apple Watch launch event, U2 announced they would “gift” their latest album, Songs of Innocence, as a “treat”.  But rather than ‘free’ being the favourite word, another f word was quickly thrown around after the album was automatically downloaded to millions of iTunes play lists, with no means of deleting it.  For non fans this was, in essence, the free sample you couldn’t throw out but rather had to look at every day while it took up valuable counter space.

To add to the backlash, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney said it: “sends a huge mixed message to bands… that are just struggling to get by. I think that [U2] were thinking it’s super generous of them to do something like that.”

All of this does seem rather off brand for U2, who have always been the authentic, everyman, socially aware type of rock star.  Not an arrogantly rich rock star cult.

The lessons:

1.        Times are changing – what’s worked before likely won’t work now

I don’t think U2 stopped to think the world has changed since their iconic iPod commercial.  Today people want to curate and control their own content, they are super sensitive to privacy, and push back on big companies that mess around with their personal stuff.

2.       Invite don’t force

Don’t foist your product upon customers and assume they’ll love you for it.  Rather, talk to them, invite them in, move forward with them.

3.        As we’ve said many times before, if you screw up, own up. 

Bono issued a mea culpa in Facebook  explaining it was a “A drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we’d poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard.”  U2…fear?  Pffft.   Sounds like a recipe for Arrogance Pie if you ask me.

So, could this symbolize the ending of the aggressive and yelling era of push marketing as we know it?  We think so.