September 15, 2014: Responding to its disastrous U2 album giveaway, Apple provides a tool for wiping all signs of Songs of Innocence from their iPhones.
It comes after one of the strangest PR debacles in Apple’s history. After putting a free copy of U2’s latest album on every iPhone owner’s handset as a special promotion, millions find themselves with an album they didn’t order in their iTunes library. Many weren’t happy about it.
Apple and U2 shared a special connection for years. U2 frontman Bono became good friends with Steve Jobs and designer Jony Ive. In the early 2000s, Apple used the band’s song “Vertigo” as the soundtrack for an iTunes ad. The commercial helped make the song a hit. Apple also lent its support to Bono’s Product (RED) charity, dedicated to wiping out HIV and AIDS in African nations.
However, despite the success of these initiatives, the U2 album giveaway came off as a disaster. After less than 1% of iTunes users downloaded the freebie album on the first day, Apple shoved it down users’ throats by automatically downloading it to devices. The negative fallout proved intense.
U2 album giveaway: A touch of megalomania
Bono later blamed the cock-up on getting carried away. He also said it was based on “megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion, and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years might not be heard.”
Apple seemed baffled by the backlash. From its perspective, it simply gave out a free album. The company certainly did not expect the kind of response it received. In fact, Cupertino was so confident that it paid U2 and its record label a reported $100 million for the rights to Songs of Innocence. On September 15, however, Apple relented. It published a web page with details revealing how users could wipe the album from their accounts. (Sadly, the page is no longer active.)
As with all internet outrages, U2-gate blew over before long. But Apple never repeated a similar giveaway. Even when it does offer free trials of products, it doesn’t assume users will want to take part.