Dear Jessica Ann, The Release Of The U2 Album By Apple Is Not A Marketing Fail

By September 24, 2014In The News
Dear Jessica Ann, The Release Of The U2 Album By Apple Is Not A Marketing Fail
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Harumph. If you heard our podcast this past Monday, you’ll know that we touched on the current U2 scandal and outrage. Specifically we decided that the whole thing amounts to… meh.

Neither Carol Lynn nor I found it disturbing or outrageous that Apple released the U2 album, despite some reasonable concerns such as the amount of space the album takes up on a mobile device. Ultimately, we concluded two things:

  1. This outrage is more a reflection of the Internet zeitgeist than it is a reflection of a mistake on Apple’s or U2’s part.
  2. If you run a small business and you do something nice for your audience, someone will hate you for it.

Today, friend of Web.Search.Social Jessica Ann, commented on the matter. After reading it I had to chime in with this out-of-the-ordinary second post for the day here at Web.Search.Social.

After reading my response, please check out the discussion Carol Lynn had on our podcast episode, “Oh, The Outrage! The Reality Of Trying To Please Everyone With Your Marketing.”

And don’t miss today’s regularly scheduled article, “The Only Buzzword You Must Eliminate From Your Marketing Vocabulary.”

My response is to Jessica’s article “5 Tips to Not Be Like U2 With Your Marketing” at SteamFeed.

An Open Letter To Jessica Ann

Hi Jessica,

How’s things? It’s your buddy Ralph here. You know how we generally agree on stuff? This isn’t going to be one of those times.

I read your article on SteamFeed and wanted to take a moment to voice some disagreement and cite some of my own opinions. I’ll paraphrase your points for clarity but I encourage everyone to read the original for the full points.

Intro paragraph. The future is here, but U2 hasn’t gotten the memo.

I always cringe when I read the “the future is here.” Contextually, I feel like calling a band out of touch when they are known for embracing technology through their creative and philanthropic work seems like a stretch, but I get that you are setting up the article.

1. Don’t Push It. We live in a “pull” economy. U2 should have let us decide whether or not to accept the album and not “push” it on us. That amounts to spam and a marketing fail.

As a result of this promotion, U2 has one of the widest digital distributions in the history of civilization. The buzz coupled with that distribution is immense.

How is that  marketing fail?

Can you honestly argue that if a client, let’s call them AcmeCorp, gains the widest distribution of their product and starts a global discussion, that you would consider that a marketing fail?

Let me offer another perspective. A student in my class this semester told me that she never really listened to U2, but she liked the album and was going to listen to more of their music.

That sounds like a marketing win.

I think that there is a line being blurred here. On one side there is the release of the album and on the other is the Internet echo chamber’s disposition to complain and be outraged about… well, everything.

Consider for a moment that the album was distributed for free. As a gift. Is outrage really the right emotion?

I get that the album takes up space and that not everyone likes U2, but it’s still a gift.

I’ll grant you that it’s a gift wrapped in a PR stunt, but it’s still a gift.

Couple that with the fact that the album can be streamed or easily deleted instead of downloaded and the outrage begins to seem like outrage for the sake of outrage.

My grandfather constantly “pushed” gifts to me that I didn’t want or like, but I didn’t freak out about it.

2. Make Art. U2’s PR stunt took the focus away from their art. But they failed because their art became confused with the medium.

This reminds me of those book reviewers that condemn Young Adult books for being Young Adult books. They confuse marketing with literature. Would the Harry Potter books be better or worse if we categorized them as sic-fi or fantasy? Of course not.

Concluding that art is not art based on how it is distributed is short sighted. That’s like claiming that an album is better because it’s on vinyl.

I would also point out that this stunt is an Apple stunt, not a U2 stunt. U2 didn’t deliver anything. All they did was record an album and sign on the dotted line. That does not inherently make them a sell out or less of an artistic group. I don’t know if they recorded the album specifically for Apple or not, but regardless, this is the new paradigm of music consumption. The market has spoken on this front.

Just because you are focused on the medium doesn’t mean that U2 is too. I don’t know them personally, but I’m sure when they were tuning their guitars and prepping their drums they weren’t thinking about Apple.

Coupling U2’s artistry with Apple’s technological achievements just seems like a stretch to me.

3. Engage with your Fans. Engaged fans happen when they want to hear your music. U2 tried to hawk their music at someone else’s show.

I don’t understand this line of thought. U2 is known globally for its sell out shows. In the past three decades, I’ve seen U2 live countless times.

I don’t understand what connection releasing a studio album has with live music. As far as I know U2 did not release the album with the caveat that they would never perform again.

But more importantly, I think it’s a better statement to say that the album didn’t resonate with some. I liked the album and had no problem with the digital download. So did lots of other people. The squeaky wheel of a small number of commentators that are outraged seems to be wagging the dog here.

4. Be bite-sized. A full album is too much to listen to and bombards people with too much to process. Bite-sized consumption is in. Long form content is out.

I’m 43 now. I remember buying albums on vinyl. I remember having 8 tracks. And somewhere in there I made the transition to CDs and then to digital. Never once did I feel bombarded by an album. In fact, I love new albums.

I’ll grant you that I may be an anomaly, but here’s the thing…

Netflix. Orange is the New Black gets released a season at a time. Hulu releases content a season at a time.

Bite sized drip release does not seem to be the norm. Or at least I can argue that it has not supplanted the real ease of multi track or episodic content.

5. Own the Conversation – on the Right Platform. iTunes is a walled garden. If you want to reach your audience you need to think past that to other platforms like Spotify and YouTube.

Is iTunes the wrong platform or the wrong platform for some?

This point is less about me agreeing or disagreeing and more about business. U2 owns their content and can license it in whatever way they want, but in almost all cases the distributing channel wants some exclusivity at least for some time.

That’s why you can’t see Game of Thrones on TNT. At least not yet. That’s why the Beetles didn’t release their catalog on iTunes for a while. That why movies exist on Netflix and then are gone.

I go back to the “gift” idea. U2 presented the world with a gift. Not only was that gift rejected by a few, but now the manner in which that gift was presented is rejected as well.

I don’t know. I’m kinda happy with the new U2 album. Because of its quality. Because of its artisty. But mostly because I didn’t have to pay for it.

The fact that for the moment the album lives only in iTunes doesn’t diminish its quality and to your initial point, with respect to this being a marketing fail…

…I disagree.

Love you lots.

Don’t forget you promised to be on my podcast.

And please don’t kill me. Also, please don’t kill me.

Ralph

Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer at Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company that I founded in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn. In January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. I'm also founder and CTO of Podcaster's Toolbox, a SaaS platform designed to help podcasters plan, produce and promote their shows. I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I are home based near the Jersey shore but we're currently location independent and traveling the country for a year, working and podcasting. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera