Was U2’s Free iTunes Launch The Year’s Biggest Brand Fail?

Adweek (Adfreak) has pronounced U2’s Songs of Innocence album release the number 1 brand fail of the year. It is very easy to nod your head yes after reading this, yet I challenge you to go a little deeper and determine what “brand fail” really means. I respect Tim Nudd’s point. Placing automatic download on 500 million people’s phones, whether they wanted it or not, did draw a backlash. I wrote about this U2 and Apple criticism when it first happened. Nudd says, “The criticism was swift and merciless, and Bono later admitted that his “beautiful idea” with Apple might not have been so beautiful after all. “[We] might have gotten carried away with ourselves,” he admitted in the understatement of the year.”
Was this really “the year’s silliest, scariest and stupidest brand fail?”
This was a bold move and bold moves hardly ever go perfectly, but before we pronounce this the brand fail of the year let’s dig a little deeper. Think about the challenge of getting through the clutter, trying to keep an older band (sorry Bono, but you’ve been around for four decades) relevant and trying to reach new audiences. What is the objective of most advertising campaigns? To make everyone happy? I would say most brands want to sell product. In this case U2 wants to get their music out into the world and make some money doing it.
Irish Central presents another point to consider in their recent article “U2 Have the Last Laugh with Massive Sales of New Album.” iTunes reported this week that 26 million people have downloaded “Songs of Innocence” in its entirety since they released it at the beginning of last month – nearly double the 14 million who previously had purchased the group’s music through iTunes since it launched in 2003. Mark Farragher says, “I’d say the publicity stunt paid off as U2 achieves their ultimate goal: a global reach of their new music in this world of fractured attention spans with so many entertainment choices.” This article includes a different Bono quote, We were already annoying people, it was already divisive, it was already, ‘I can’t stand them, I want to kill them.’ It’s the job of art to be divisive.”
Before pronouncing the U2 album release a brand fail I also point you to another article recently published about their concert ticket sales. Live Nation reported that U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour 2015 was sold out in every city where it went on sale the same morning. They continue saying, “Following overwhelming fan demand, including a record-setting 118,000 fans queuing online to purchase tickets in New York, two new shows have been confirmed in New York, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin & Paris.” If your objective is to keep a 40 year old band relevant and sell albums and concert tickets then it seems to be producing real business results.
It may not have been perfect, but to pronounce this the biggest brand failure of the year may be an overstatement. What are your thoughts? Perhaps I am just seeing it through rose color Bono glasses because I am a U2 fan.