I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. If you haven’t already done the same, get on it.
One of my favorite scenes is the description of Bono visiting Jobs at his Palo Alto home in 2004 to pitch him on including U2′s soon-to-release new single in the next iPod commercial.
Superstar musicians normally charge enormous fees to companies that want to associate a hit song with a product, if they’ll rent out their songs at all. Microsoft, for example, paid the Rolling Stones $10 million to use “Start Me Up” in commercials launching its new operating-system software, Windows 95. It’s kind of incredible, then, that a tech company’s brand had become stronger, cooler and more accessible than one of the best-selling rock bands of all time — so much so that the band licensed its single to Apple free of charge. It’s even more impressive that the band was U2, who, according to Rolling Stone, were especially reluctant to partner with corporate sponsors.
In their twenty-five-year history, U2 have never licensed their music for commercial use or even accepted tour sponsorship. With radio playlists strictly formatted and MTV showing more reality-TV shows than videos [however], many bands are looking for new ways to bring their music to the public. And so U2 launched the first single from their upcoming album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, with an iPod ad rather than a video.
Given that another iPod spot (in 2006) helped Bob Dylan debut his new album, Modern Times, in the #1 position on Billboard’s chart — something he hadn’t done in 30 years — you have to credit Bono with his prescience. Clearly he’s no marketing slouch either.