A Branding Bummer – With or Without U2.

It seems like only yesterday that U2 was going steady with Apple.  They helped usher in the digital music era when they were a featured artist in those really cool iPod commercials from Chiat/Day.

Heck, they even had their own iPod – a slick black version with a red click wheel and the four band members’ signatures engraved on the back.  In the official press release, Bono was quoted as saying “we want our audience to have a more intimate online relationship with the band, and Apple can help us do that.”  Apple even went so far as to release the online music industry’s first “digital box set,” which contained more than 400 tracks – the entire U2 catalogue plus 25 rare and unreleased songs.

So with all this mutual love between Apple and U2, how is it that the band is now endorsing BlackBerry?  A beautiful new Alex Courtes-directed spot (from ARC/Chicago) culminates with the super “Blackberry Loves U2.”  If you follow the vanity link, you learn that Blackberry is introducing the “U2 Mobile Album,” a sort of 360° (pardon the pun, that’s U2’s tour name,) view of the band, the new album, the tour, etc., that can be shared among mobile devices.  Of course, that “sharing” is only available on BlackBerry devices, and ostensibly only on the newish ones.  PS – in case you’re wondering, the answer is Yes…BlackBerry is the principal sponsor of the U2 360 world tour.

This is a train wreck on multiple levels:
Level 1:  U2 ditches Apple for a direct competitor in the smartphone category. Ouch.

Level 2:  BlackBerry is the device of choice for geeky IT guys and nerdy accountants, isn’t it?  Not exactly the hip/young/world-changing/activism crowd you’d expect. At least Apple made sense in terms of shared vision and shared audience.

Level 3:  To really muck up the situation, Bono is a founding member of Elevation Partners, a private equity firm (along with Fred Anderson, former CFO of Apple, ahem,) that is a principal investor (to the tune of 27%) in Palm, and therefore, ANOTHER direct competitor in the smartphone category, the Palm Pre.

So is possible for U2 to be effectively “aligned” with Apple, BlackBerry and Palm?
Not a chance.

Brands exist in the perceptions of consumers.  When those perceptions become clouded, even a little, the brand loses points proportionately.  What U2 have done loosens the stickiness for Apple, BlackBerry, (and to a lesser degree Palm, since not many people are aware of that connection,) and especially U2.

U2 really come off looking like sellouts at best and “who’s next?” product hustlers at worst.  In an era when aligning your brand with strategic partners can make all the difference in the world, it’s important to align on VALUES and VISION, not just what’s hot at the moment.

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One thought on “A Branding Bummer – With or Without U2.

  1. melanieschmidt August 18, 2009 / 3:19 pm

    Particularly when the money gets tight, sometimes even the most solid of couples break up. The dating was great, the marriage seemed to be on cloud nine … yet, people come in and out of our lives. Sometimes one of the two needs more security. Sometimes it’s just not working any more. Visions change, values shift.

    I couldn’t agree more with the importance of alignment and the strategic value of analyzing alliances based on values and vision … but …

    Fewer of today’s consumers condemn their entertainment heroes for switched or mixed endorsements. U2 sold out in years past, so that’s nothing new. While I haven’t looked into the demographic reports, I’m not sold on the disconnect between the BlackBerry buyer and the U2 listener. And, maybe Bono’s financial planner told him that diversification in one of the few sectors that seems to be doing okay made a whole lot of sense.

    So, a branding bummer, yes. But I’m not convinced that from the consumer perspective, we’re talking about a branding three-way.

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