October 17, 2014

How Not to Promote Your Product: A Case Study with U2

by Jaimie Siegle | Advertising Systems Inc.

Remember that U2 album you never asked for? The one that showed up unannounced in your iTunes music library about a month ago? Well, front man Bono has something to tell you: “Oops … I’m sorry about that.”

In a video posted via Facebook Oct. 14 with the hashtag #U2NoFilter, Bono and the band members answered questions from fans submitted through social media. Similar to a Reddit AMA-style interview, the Facebook Q&A welcomed any and all inquiries, including silly ones like, “why don’t Larry and Adam have cool names like The Edge and Bono?” Amid such innocent, lighter questions, one individual asked what millions of music fans wanted to know: “Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to people’s playlists ever again? It’s really rude.”

In his explanation to the 500 million iTunes customers who woke up Sept. 9 to find their iTunes infiltrated by the Irish rock band, Bono admitted the band got “carried away” with themselves and the “beautiful idea” he had – the idea being a forced download of Songs of Innocence on every iTunes user’s music library without a means to remove it. Following immediate backlash from its users who felt their privacy had been violated, the tech giant quickly provided a support link to delete Songs of Innocence forever.

Bono said the mistake was typical of artists, the recipe for which included a “drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs we poured our life into … mightn’t be heard.” But considering the album was distributed to seven percent of the population and is reported to have had “the biggest album launch of all time,” Bono shouldn’t have to worry about that.

Still, U2 is rumored to have profited $100 million from the deal with Apple. Nevertheless, the incident can serve as a case study in what not to do if you plan to maintain credibility among your fan base; in U2’s case — as well as with other companies and organizations who have made mistakes — the best way to effectively manage the onslaught of negativity from audiences and the media is to apologize and move forward.

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