Content Marketing Lessons Learned from U2


Even if you’ve never in your life cared about the rock band U2, you may well have heard about their latest escapade: Earlier this week, the group—long associated with Apple, at least since appearing in the company’s classic iPod commercials in 2004—showed up at the grand unveiling of the iPhone 6, and they came with a big announcement: They had a new, surprise album ready to release. And release it they did: With one push of a button, Apple boss Tim Cook released the album to the entire iTunes user database.

In other words: If you have an iTunes account, you own the new U2 album—a “gift” from Apple. The album is available for free for a full five weeks, and has automatically downloaded to users’ iTunes libraries. About half a billion people, give or take, now own this new U2 album, making it, by most reckonings, the biggest album launch in history.

Haters Gonna Hate

You might think you know what we’re going to say, at this point—that this album launch is in some way a case of exemplary content marketing. That’s true to an extent. U2 has created original, compelling content; has imagined a really attention-grabbing way to promote it; has made the content available for free; has clearly succeeded in building buzz, both on social media and in the offline world; and will likely see this buzz translate into more of their old albums sold and more concert tickets purchased, as new listeners discover the pleasures of U2 through this new album giveaway.

Yet, there is a bit of a cautionary tale here, too. U2 has been on the receiving end of no small amount of snark this week, backlash centered on the release model. Giving away their Songs of Innocence album as an automatic download, some have argued, borders on the creepy; others have said it smacks of desperation. There are even some accusations that U2’s methodology is a violation of iTunes user privacy. (This is, strictly speaking, not really true; you may not receive the album as an automatic download if your privacy settings prohibit such things, so the consumer does have a say in the matter.)

The influential music blog Pitchfork Media describes the release method as “indisputably queasy,” for instance; the review goes on to say that the men in U2 have aligned “with their old friends Apple to insert their new album, Songs of Innocence, into all of our libraries without consent. By updating the old Columbia House Record Club scam to the digital age, U2 and their Cupertino buddies have created a new avenue of opt-out cultural transmission, removing even the miniscule effort it takes to go to a website and click ‘Download.’”

The Importance of Choice

This all illustrates a subtle yet significant component of content marketing: When it’s done right, content marketing is all about conveying your brand’s message without necessarily coming right out and saying it. To put it another way, content marketing should cause consumers to feel like they’ve found your brand—not like you’ve targeted them and hounded them.

That may be part of why people don’t like the U2 album release model: The band and Apple left no room for the consumer to play a part, to feel like he or she contributed to the process. There’s no sense of choice here. It simply feels as though a product has been forced upon us—and while it may seem ungrateful to complain about a free product, it’s nevertheless legitimate to critique the shoehorned nature of this product launch.

The lesson for content marketers, then, may just be this: Don’t try to force anything on your consumers. Let them find their way to you. Give them just enough information that they can make the choice on their own—and yes, perhaps, opt out if they really want to.

To learn more about the intricacies of content marketing, contact Grammar Chic, Inc. today: Call 803-831-7444, or visit



Filed under Content Marketing

2 responses to “Content Marketing Lessons Learned from U2

  1. Pingback: 6 E-mail Marketing Mistakes You Might be Making | The Red Ink

  2. Pingback: Grammar Chic Loves Pop Culture | The Red Ink

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s