Dissecting Apple’s U2 blunder (or was it genius?)

WASHINGTON – The uproar over Apple’s decision to put U2’s new album directly on users’ mobile devices and iTunes accounts, for free, is generating more media and social media attention than the tech giant’s new products going on sale, Friday.

To release U2’s new “Songs of Innocence” album to Apple customers, gratis, will cost Apple up to $100 million, according to the New York Times.

The album will remain free through iTunes until Oct. 14.

Yet, the furor over “uninvited U2” showing up on people’s phones, has prompted countless articles with headlines like “Why U2’s new album is on your phone, and how to delete it”.

Quickly, Apple released a tool to help users remove U2 from their phones, without reflecting on the negative publicity they were receiving for what executives, including CEO Tim Cook, had called “a gift.”

Many are asking how Apple could have miscalculated so severely.

WTOP Tech has asked respected digital technology, public relations, and marketing professionals for their opinions on Apple’s handling of what is one of history’s strangest publicity stunts.

Hey, you were in my underwear drawer

Data Doctors’ Ken Colburn says Apple’s heart and wallet may have been in the right place, but the execution wasn’t thought out.

Clearly this was an idea born in a boardroom somewhere that everybody collectively decided, “Hey, this is a great idea.”

The reality is a lot of people did not appreciate them taking liberties with their storage and their iTunes libraries.

I heard a few comments from younger generation folks saying ‘Well, that’s great for my Dad.” There’s lots of alienation going on as a result of what I’m sure started out as “They’re going to love this!”

Apple has clearly learned a lesson they cannot take for granted how people feel about their devices, storage, and library. This was an intrusion in a lot of people’s minds.

It’s like somebody reaching in and saying “Here’s some free pairs of underwea,.” but “Wait a minute, you were in my underwear drawer.” That’s kind of an uncomfortable situation.

The bottom line is we’re in a time when personal choice is paramount, and should always be considered with anything being done, especially in a digital form.

Anything new or different is always met with some push-back, but something where there is an intrusion component, where people feel “Wait a minute, you went way beyond,” everyone in the industry will learn from this.

Providing superior value, extra value, providing free stuff — everybody loves that. But they want it on their own terms, not you dictating to me what I get for free.

Apple inadvertently acknowledges the death of MP3 collecting

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s determination to orchestrate “the largest album release of all time,” pointed out some of Apple’s vulnerability, says Pete Johnson, president and CEO of Apollo Matrix, Inc., a Washington DC based, mobile app design and development company that focuses on user experiences.

Apple created and popularized the model of selling music by the song, and allowing each user to have their own personal juke box in the form of iTunes.

Satellite radio created our taste for streaming content, and the Internet delivered.

I think that by placing free music into its users’ iTunes account, Apple inadvertently acknowledges the death of MP3 collecting as it were.

They broke their own model by forcing content on their user instead of opting through a transaction in order to add to the user’s collection.

Apple has always had a characteristic snarkiness in its superior role in the market. The procedure for removing the ‘gift’ of a U2 song fits right in, unfortunately.

If nothing else this is a lesson in the two edges of creating a unique service model.

When you’ve created something as distinct as the iTunes model for media distribution, it is difficult to compromise it in any manner as the market around you evolves.

I hope that Apple decides to respect the iTunes model while continuing to invest in streaming models adjacent to it.

Did Apple think about the backlash that might result?

Kenny Fried, executive vice president with Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications, says Apple didn’t remember the basics taught in Public Relations 101.

When Apple made a deal with U2 to release their latest album for free to iTune users, they were hoping to generate even greater attention and traction for their new products announcement than they had ever received before.

Apple is a proven leader in generating news media attention for their products.

As Apple marketing execs devised this latest publicity stunt that cost them a reported 100 million dollars, it’s pretty clear that they didn’t do even the most basic SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) relative to the potential public relations backlash from this mass giveaway.

There are many factors in play here.

For example, did they ever consider whether the entire Apple audience had a positive perception about U2 and their front man Bono — recently rumored to have no interest for a recent high-profile charity concert in England organized by Roger Daltry of The Who?

Did Apple read the reviews of the album to see if people would actually want to listen to it?

Did Apple think about the backlash that might result from their customers who don’t like spam?

Apple seems to think that they are a Teflon company that everyone loves and for the most part that may be true; but I feel strongly that this time they simply got it wrong.

As a result, the media attention about Apple isn’t focusing on their new iPhone, but rather on their irresponsibility as a company.

Clearly, this is not the huge PR result they wanted.

Now, if only the free album was from Paul McCartney, things might have been a little different.

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