Behind The Streams: U2 and the Impact of Charitable Marketing
  • TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2014

  • Posted by: David Moffly

Does anybody care about U2 anymore? Other than crashing global events with his famous shades, Bono and his band might as well be "U Who?" to the current generation of music fans (snare, crash, groan). They are relics of the past even if that past was fueled by epic, stadium-sized performances and multi-platinum albums.

Here in the office we see a lot of videos from artists of all types and genres. We get daily pitches from our PR friends and nemeses (spammers, you know who you are!) for artists flaunting socially conscious music videos and causes that they deem important (which, as we're so often told, makes the artists important). Recurring themes deal with bullying, teen suicide, drug addition, racial harmony, world peace, and other social wars. Well-intentioned sure, but always, these artists' efforts come packaged with a heavy dose of self-promotion in the not-so-secret hope that their stance can be a ride to greater awareness of the band. Usually, such messaging is cheap and trite; white middle class "artists", armed with guitars pantomiming lyrics they deem socially relevant...with "guerilla style" (read: cheap) production.

Exhibit A:



U2 left the middle-class decades ago and to become massively wealthy stadium rockers offering generations of music fans anthems to which they could and still can sing along. Nothing in recent years has risen to the level of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. That said, the stunt they pulled off during the Super Bowl last week makes Jay Z's Samsung promotion look like the work of the self-serving amateurs we seem to hear from every day.

Built around the promotion of a new album, U2 snagged the megaphone during the largest mass television event of the year, spending a minute playing a new single in a dazzling black and white video. Better yet The Man - Bank of America - paid for the entire thing. Brilliant. We all dislike banks. Who could resist going to iTunes and downloading the song knowing it would cost Bank of America a dollar? I know I couldn't.

So U2 accomplished a lot with their socially conscious effort:

- At least 110 million people know that U2 has a new album coming out. At least 1 million might actually care
- $10 million in fresh funding raised for AIDs research and support
- At least 3 million people now have the new single buried on their iTunes
- More than 3 million people have sat through the video on the band's YouTube page

If you're like me, you stopped caring about this band long ago. Although, yes, I do occasionally paraphrase the lyrics to "Seconds" — "I wanna be an Airborne Ranger, I wanna live a life of danger" — to threaten the children with military school. I'm a good dad. Regardless, the band's Super Bowl stunt is a truly masterful marketing tactic, pulled off by the one and only band with the track record and past reach to accomplish it. Reluctantly, they get my admiration for figuring out how to harness the single largest marketing event of the year to their advantage while at the same time doing a world of good for a respected cause. While we know this is what every artist who pitches us with such socially conscious "art" hopes to build to, well...they don't have the platform, and in too many cases, don't have the talent either.

Watch the "Invisible" Super Bowl RED promo:


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