U2 and Apple

According to Bryan MacDonald – columnist for RT (a Russian 24/7 English-language news channel) – a new U2 single will be out on September 9, 2014. This is the same date that the new iPhone 6 will be unveiled. MacDonald further claims that the new U2 album will come pre-loaded on the new iPhone. As we know, this is not the first time U2 has paired up with Apple.

10 years ago, U2 had a ‘custom’ made iPod that was black and red (the colours of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) and came with a $50 coupon redeemable against ‘The U2 Digital Complete Works’. It turned out to be a great marketing launch pad for U2. Bono and the Edge performed at that Apple event that unveiled the iPod.

October 26, 2004. California Theater, San Jose, California – scroll to 04:25 for Bono and Edge’s appearance.

In hindsight, the U2 iPod was nothing extraordinary. The colours were different and had the band’s signatures engraved on the back. But what it did do was market U2 to a wider and younger following. With all of the talk about U2’s relevance and desire to connect to a global and popular audience, what better way than to have their music come pre-loaded on the highly anticipated iPhone 6. Even if the music was not pre-loaded, and instead promoted through Apple’s newly acquired Beats Music music streaming service (New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014), a positive association with Apple would be far better than their adventure with Blackberry in 2009.

There is an expectation that global sales for the iPhone 6 could reach 75 million to 80 million in the first three months alone (IBT, Aug. 20, 2104).

It would unsurprising that U2 would use the iPhone 6 release to help promote the new album. The way people consume music has changed over the past decade. Sales of CDs have plummeted (Billboard, Aug. 28, 2014), which has been eclipsed by single song downloads to be heard on smartphones as the new method of music listening. New marketing directions have taken place. For example, Beyonce with no warning, released her fifth album along with 17 music videos through social media (Guardian, Jan. 1, 2014). There is a certain album or record nostalgia that U2 holds onto and the possibility of releasing U2’s new album on the new iPhone is in alignment with their beliefs that an album should be considered a body of work.  When you listen to The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, for example, there is a sonic and thematic unity to these albums.  Hearing U2 songs independent to others on their respective albums can be half-sighted.

Working with Apple would also facilitate U2’s want of reaching a broad audience and brand associating themselves with a forerunner in the the tech industry.  Although if U2 really wanted to reach a younger crowd through technology, it might be prudent to cross over to Android platforms.

In any event, U2 is in another period of reflection, and with a strong desire to become relevant to the ‘mainstream’ radio listener.  While No Line on the Horizon was lauded by critics (see Rolling Stone, Feb. 20, 2009), it failed to resonate to the average music listener.  The use of technology is one way to market music in an age when record sales and physical purchasing of albums are withering.  Apple has been very good at marketing itself and U2 would be smart to jump on that bandwagon again.  They did this 10 years ago and may well do it again.

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