U2 Concert

Marketing Campaign Failures: U2’s Free Album

In this failed marketing campaigns series, we have covered SanDisk and Dr Pepper. The next failed marketing campaign is a bit more recent, U2’s free album Songs of Innocence.  September 9th, 2014 Apple and U2 provided their new album to 500 million iTunes users for free.  The free download was announced as part of U2’s performance at Apple’s event to launch the iPhone 6.  The world was in an uproar the next morning.

It’s Free Music, What Went Wrong?

While free music sounds great, the method that Apple gave away the free music was the problem.  Songs of Innocence was automatically downloaded onto iTunes user’s library, whether they opted for it or not.  If people had automatic downloads installed on their phone, they also found the album sitting on their mobile devices in the morning.  Even if you deleted all of the tracks, it still showed up as a purchase, and therefore part of your music library.  It was difficult if not nearly impossible to delete the albums from your device and iTunes account.  Apple had to create a tool and specific instructions to help users remove the album.  Many people saw it as an invasion of privacy and were upset by the “kind” gesture. Others were upset that it took up a lot of storage space on user’s devices.  And some were merely upset because they didn’t like the band and they were forced to hear their work.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 did release an apology to users during a question-and-answer session on Facebook.  A user asked U2 to never release an album that is automatically downloaded again, saying “It’s really rude.”  To which Bono replied “Oops, I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea and we kind of got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. Drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”  However, the band manager Guy Oseary was less apologetic and said “It’s a gift from Apple. If someone doesn’t like the gift, they should delete it. We just want to share it with as many people as possible. If you don’t want it and you don’t need it, delete it.”

The Lesson

While everyone loves free things, don’t force your free items on your customers.  Everyone wants to be able to chose for themselves, even if it is something free.  So go ahead and offer free promotions and giveaways, just make sure that customers can decide if they want to join or not.


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