Millions of iTunes users were confused by the sudden addition of U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, to their music library last month. Many thought it was a mistake until it was announced that Apple had given away the album to every user, naming it “the largest album release ever.” They wouldn’t be incorrect, as they boast that “Never before have so many people owned one album, let alone on the day of its release.” However, consumers and marketing experts had other names for the free album, which included “worse than spam,” and “a monumental blunder by the tech industry.”
For the first week, it was almost impossible to remove the album from your library, as Apple had registered it as a “past purchase” for every user of the iTunes Music Store. Realizing their mistake, Apple recently installed an easy-to-remove tool for removal of the album and deleted the promotional U2 page from their website.
Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show them.” However, this ill-fated move may have proved that theory wrong. People want pull, not push. A better strategy would have been to offer the new U2 album to users for free on iTunes for a period of time so they could take it IF they wanted it. While a much less aggressive approach that would have eliminated the record of the most-owned album, it would have eliminated backlash and annoyance from users. Free music and a legendary band alone would have been enough to entice the users who were interested. Instead, Apple only irritated users and lost credibility.
This mistake isn’t to say that creative and bold marketing moves shouldn’t be attempted, particularly in the music industry. While the album giveaway result was less-than-stellar, it’s unlikely that either party will suffer any lasting damage, aside from hopefully a few lessons learned from the marketing blunder. Other artists such as Jay-Z have had unconventional album launches that have been successful in the past – in 2013, he partnered with Samsung where the mobile provider purchased 1 million copies to give to Samsung Galaxy smartphone users for free, 72 hours ahead of the release. That same year, Beyoncé released a fifth album, along with 17 music videos – without anyone knowing… a huge feat for a musician where news is leaked almost daily on even B-list celebrities.
It’s vital for all industries to take chances with their digital marketing strategies. Some may be more effective than others but risks are necessary in order to reach success. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take.”