Content Marketing Blog

iTunes users stuck in a moment they can’t get out of

Legendary rock band U2 went the way of fellow musicians Radiohead and released an electronic version of their latest album for free earlier this month, but the stunt may have backfired for the group.

The band’s first studio album in five years, Songs of Innocence, was eagerly anticipated by many fans and those within the music industry. While the songs themselves have received mixed reviews, it’s the channel the album was released on that has drawn the most attention – and criticism. U2 released their album for free to all iTunes users, whether they wanted it or not.

The move comes on the back of a 10-year relationship between Apple and U2, with the former declaring the unique release to be the biggest in music history. And indeed it was history-making, with iTunes proclaiming “never before have so many people owned one album, let alone on the day of its release”, but what neither the brand nor the band appear to have factored in is that not everyone likes U2. iTunes users didn’t get to opt-in to owning the album – rather, the entire database of users (somewhere around the half a billion people mark) automatically received it, causing unhappy users to scramble to delete the album.

On the band’s website, U2 frontman Bono claimed the idea came as a way to get new listeners involved in their music, enticing people who weren’t traditionally interested in U2 to give their music a listen. But as the band found, when you give yourself away, you might not find what you’re looking for.

Forcing content upon people in this way is an interesting approach, and the band (and iTunes) has received plenty of backlash in the wake of the stunt. Some have labelled the move as invasive, others found it desperate, and Apple was eventually forced to launch a tool designed specifically to remove the album from users’ libraries.

Despite the vitriol of some users, there are some positives in this unique approach to content marketing. The band’s content is original and they’ve used a compelling, attention-grabbing way to publish and promote it.

If you believe in the adage that any publicity is good publicity, then U2 has hit it out of the park, generating enough buzz to land them on the front page of news media sites around the world. The real proof in the pudding will be the ROI, which will come in the form of more of their old albums sold and an increase in the purchase of concert tickets.