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U2 Demands Relevancy, Pisses Off Millions

Five hundred million people received a complimentary copy of U2’s new album Songs of Innocence last week. People are not happy about the forced music download, dubbing it spam.

U2 Public Relations

Perhaps in U2 and Apple’s joint bid for staying power and relevance they went too far. Some PR experts dub the move a forced purchase.

What Songs of Innocence really teaches us is the importance of opting in. The issue isn’t that every iTunes user got the album for free, but rather, that they were forced to download it. If people had the choice to download the album, there would probably be 2 million very happy U2 fans this week.

In essence, U2 or Apple — or both parties — fell into the permission trap. Both brands have damaged their reputations for a single percentage point of success by observing no permission line on the horizon (har, har). In an era when the slightest forced changes causes the Internet mobs to rise up (ask Facebook), the much beloved Bono and company provoked the Twitterverse.

Autographs U2 Apple PR

It’s unfortunate for the launch of what was supposed to be U2’s bid for relevancy. Not only did it anger folks, it came across as the mistake of an older out of touch marketer. And it seems like a rehashed tactic, as U2 partnered with Jobs-era Apple during the iPod4/How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb launch. Buyers of the special U2 edition of the iPod were treated to the band’s full discography.

(Note: Apple has created a way for users to easily delete the album.)

Babies and Bath Water

Apple U2 Public Relations

The overall critical reception for the album has been mixed. Rolling Stone called it the most successful rebirth of a band known for reincarnations. Spin also loved it.

Most news outlets have been less generous. Newsweek trashed the album and called the Apple release a stunt. The Guardian felt the album was mediocre. The New York Times review was more generous.

I listened to the album while writing this post, and I found it to be delightful. Finally, after two bad albums, U2 is back. As a teenage boy, I grew up on U2’s first stage of success War and the Unforgettable Fire. The Joshua Tree stage was not for me, but both the Achtung Baby and All that You Can’t Leave Behind were stellar rebirths.

But is it too late for the baby? Did the foul, forced-download bath water ruin U2’s chances of another renaissance?

I don’t think so. A brand as powerful as U2 can overcome a mistake like this, and surely their tour will be a massive success next year.

But let’s hope there isn’t another epic gaffe. There may be no tolerance left for another outdated marketing tactic in the age of contextual marketing.

Want to read more of Geoff’s public relations thought leadership? Click here!

About Geoff Livingston

Geoff is president and founder of Tenacity5 Media, a digital marketing agency that provides content marketing and social media services. A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored five books. Follow him @geoffliving.

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