U2’s recent attempt to reboot their brand was probably hailed as a success by their team, though that’s not to say it was. This time the criticism and contention will be explained away as being a necessary component of what it takes to gain one-stop international exposure in the global marketplace. Music never felt as much of an afterthought.
The campaign was akin to the test of neutron bomb, that mythical weapon that wipes out populations without laying waste to the land. Two big boxes ticked. New markets opened up and a head count was taken of the growing disaffection Bono has drawn onto the band. Vice commented that U2 are now very well aware of how much they are hated by certain sections of the under 40s – those who know who U2 are, of course. This time they had to do something about it. A strategy appeared that had the U2 corporation seem to ditch the traditional western rock demographic (and its increasingly tendency for cultural criticism) in favor of new uncritical followers. These would be populations that would find the band’s unthreatening type of what was being called ‘dad rock’. Such as those found in Asia and the American Bible belt for instance.
Apple balances a similar dichotomy. Rather than deal with detractors and those ignorant of their product as separate issues they summoned a 20th century spectacle, a media-designed neutron bomb simultaneously dismissing and embracing fandom as their corporate buildings weather the explosion. The new markets of India for example where millions of phone users have not yet been converted to smartphone usage became the thing. For U2 to piggyback on this penetration made complete sense to a corporation used of doing business the 20th way. India’s population appears to be ripe for upgrade and if there was a gap for a band to exploit this then it could only be one as large as U2 consider them as.
In this campaign Bono’s huckster schtick, previously detrimental to the band, became inflated beyond the reach of hater parody as he led the bombing raid. Its why we are called U2 … we want to be you too he said as the commentary about the unwanted virus album spread. This was preacher talk akin to a money call by TV evangelists.
In the hubris, other corporations looked on as Apple eventually offered to remove the product after a week, confident that the ringing in the ears from the audacity of the strike left them uncontaminated. This was a campaign that courted negativity to such an extent negativity had to be redefined. In just a week the two brands cleared a path for new ways of insinuating their product into (what they hope is) a new generation of compliant uncritical consumers. The concept of selling, though laughable and unsophisticated, was made redundant. Both brands had lost interest in courting any 90s model of ‘cool’.
Apple and U2 had spent a good a decade being prodded by the left about their messianic missions with the criticism focused on a type of vulgarity associated with their corporate strategies. They needed a new firewall, as this now-established critique was building and Twitter commentary eroded profits. While Apple cheerfully acknowledged the album’s identity as a virus that may still rake in profit, they let it be known that traditional critique is inadequate. If the campaign embraces or swats away the comments of someone with the hip cultural clout of profile rapper Tyler the Creator, who demanded to know why fuckin Bono’s album was in his digital possession, what platform now exists to fully criticise either the campaign or the product in the pop cultural arena?
Recently at the peak of his hipness Tyler offered himself as a creative brand offering his services to corporations desperate for hipness and one big drink company took the bait. One surreal TV ad mired in accusations of racism later, the company beat a hasty retreat and Tyler went back to music and t-shirts. Hold that thought and imagine the two strategies analysed by a ruthless ad exec. Imagine a resulting campaign that would not only test the range of both old and new ways of pushing product but also reaffirm the 20th century boundaries of consuming music as well as keeping the media that champion the likes of Tyler’s left field thinking in their place? It would have to be a campaign that would cost millions and involve the uber-synergy of mega corporations seeking untapped markets for rock music and trendy mobile devices.
And so it came to pass. Within a week as the tide turned in U2’s favour, the Guardian went from criticising the endeavour to criticising those who hate Bono (it was getting boring it seems). Complementing this turn, The New Yorker published a detailed biography of U2 that focused exclusively on their Christian roots including an assessment of their standing in biblical America.
This article also listed a surprising amount of American Christian books dedicated to the band. By now Bono was laboriously emphasizing the album’s theme of family and loss to anyone who would listen, but who exactly would want to hear this from a rock singer? Nobody in their 20s for a start. In an outrageous ‘bono-ism’ the millionaire white singer mused that rappers often created music about their missing fathers, while U2’s album had themes about mothers. Not even Daniel O’Donnell would have been so audacious, or borderline racist in commentary. Daniel knows his market in America well of course.