Some called it “good pr,” and some called it “a virus by the name of U2.” Whether Apple customers were angrily trying to remove it from their phones or happily rocking out, the world listened when U2 added their newest album to all Apple users’ iTunes library in 2014. U2’s strategy may have sparked attention, but did the decision follow best practices in pr?
Kent State Journalism and Mass Communications professor Stefanie Moore said the move skipped an essential pillar of public relations: knowledge of the target audience.
“In terms of a reputation issue, it wasn’t good for U2 because they were just mass marketing and didn’t necessarily know who their audience was,” Moore said. “A lot of people who owned an iPhone had to ask ‘who is this group’?”
So was the Apple invasion a good pr strategy? According to Moore, the answer lies in the need for transparency in the field.
“If you’re doing something without getting permission or giving people the option to “opt-in,” then you might have to question the strategy,” Moore said. “What I really think is that they should have let people know in advance, which could’ve curbed a lot of the backlash.”
The stunt was followed by a lackluster apology from U2 band member Bono. After suggestion that it was intrusive to add the album to every user’s library, Bono responded with “Oops, I’m sorry.”
Topping off the lack of permission with such a dismissive (and sarcastic?) response was another way the pr move flopped.
Although there were the inevitable iTunes users who appreciated or didn’t mind the new library addition, there are a few fundamental pr steps the band could’ve taken to make the strategy a true success.
1. Analyze the audience
At the core of pr is the need to know who the target audience is. The fact that U2 even transitioned from Ireland to America must mean that the band has a significant fan base in the states. Doing an analysis of iTunes users to determine which of them had previously downloaded U2’s music (or similar band’s music) would’ve been a great way to target the audience with the album addition. This also would have created an opportunity for excited fans to share the news with their peers and potentially generate new fans.
2. Listen to the audience
In pr, simply knowing the audience isn’t really enough; it is also important to know what they want. As an evaluation to U2’s initial analysis of the audience, the band should have listened online to determine the response coming from the target audience. This would have given them a chance to both respond to people on a personable level, and justify their actions for future pr strategies.
3. Be informative and transparent
As Moore mentioned, the fact that U2 neglected to get permission before implementing their strategy seemed to have made things more problematic for them. Even if the band wanted to hold on to the element of surprise, a statement or interview following the pr strategy detailing why they did it, I think, would’ve been well received. Moore’s point about having some type of opt-in/opt-out for the album could have made quite a difference for the band as well. Much of the anger and frustration directed towards U2 was not about the album being added, but about the fact that people didn’t know how to remove it.
In the future, if musicians want to emulate similar strategies to spread awareness, looking to pr counsel should be the first step.