TOP Talk

Trying to Throw Their Arms Around The World: U2, Apple and Lessons in Gift Giving

Posted December 23, 2014 By Laureen Sanderson

Topics: Thought Leadership, Content, Launches


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Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote many beautiful things but my favorite during the holiday season has to be “the only true gift is a portion of thyself.” It’s a beautiful thought -- one to keep in mind -- but today I’m going to use that beautiful thought to talk about the band U2, defend Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry (full disclosure, I’m a big fan of U2, maybe their biggest fan), and discuss why their good intentions fell short. For marketers, there are lessons a-plenty in why the band’s gigantic gift-giving gesture this fall hit a sour note.

For those who are new to the story, here’s a quick rundown:

Apple, in conjunction with its September announcement of its iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and iWatch, gifted each and every one of its 500 million iTunes users a copy of U2’s brand new album Songs of Innocence, an eagerly anticipated release more than five years in the making. Gifted being the key word in that summary. I imagine that for the band it was their gift to the world - half a decade’s worth of their creative energy, of “thyselves.” Sure, if you dig deeper, you’ll find other motivations - namely relevancy - but I think Emerson would have been proud.

So, it sounds like a great idea, right? Just one problem - not everyone wanted U2 in their music collection and they were furious - take to social media furious - when they couldn’t easily delete the new album. Apple and U2 handled the backlash well, owned up to the misstep, offered a fix and apologized. Fans stayed happy, haters calmed down and marketers got a great case study. Here’s what that case study asks us to keep in mind:

Let the Audience Decide

Be mindful of who your target is and, ideally, let them opt in for the content. The reception for U2’s album would have been very different if they offered the choice to folks first: “fans, if you want it, let us know.” Forcing the content on the world doesn’t get you anywhere.

Be Respectful of Boundaries

While free is awesome, music is a very personal thing. People love their collections, maintain them, marvel at them, brag about them. Imagine hitting shuffle on your carefully curated collection and landing on a song you’ve never heard before, let alone welcomed into your personal library. It’s really no different than a stranger going into your photo stream or Instagram page and adding a photo of themselves. It feels random and it’s unwelcome. If you send something that doesn't belong or doesn't meet taste, chances are you won’t have a positive reception.

Don’t Be Afraid to Think Different

It’s still the wild west out there, so you’ll want to take calculated risks, understanding that sometimes it just won’t work. But do your best to consider as many variables as possible. U2 has demonstrated time-and-again that they understand how technology can help keep them relevant and form direct connections to fans. Together with Apple, they lost sight of the big picture on this one, but I commend them for their willingness to embrace something new.

So, lesson learned, when it comes to giving gifts, the thought still counts, but make sure plenty of thought goes towards making that gift, share, post, etc., really count.

Laureen Sanderson

About Laureen Sanderson

"Great work. When the thinking is spot on, the execution is flawless and the right results are there, it’s a beautiful thing. The client sees the value, recognizes the contributions to the business and views the external PR team as a true extension of his own. That’s motivating, and it’s the best part of the craft."