Daily Archives: March 10, 2009

The U2 marketing machine comes to life once again

i dimly remember being in Dublin as an eleven year old pigeon fancier. i had come to Dublin to buy racing pigeons. And i had gotten them. they were securely in shoe boxes under my arms. i was anxious to get on the train back to galway with my birds.

But my friends and i had some time to kill so we wandered around Dublin on a Saturday afternoon. We came upon a somewhat bohemian open air market selling random stuff. It was in a disused building of some sort. There was a band playing to apparently nobody in one corner of the market. That band was U2. I knew because a friend’s older brother had a copy of their debut single and he somehow knew what they looked like. “Lousy band name!” was my first reaction. Flux of Pink Indians…now that’s a good band name! We watched them play for a few minutes and then wandered off.

The second time i saw U2 they were third on the bill at a show that cost 50 cents to get into. And the third time it cost a pound to see them playing their own gig. A few years later i saw them play to a couple of thousand people. That cost about ten pounds.

The fifth time i saw U2 was 23 years later in Chicago on their last tour. They played the local indoor sports arena. This time the ticket cost $150. My, how they’d changed!

I grew up with U2. They’re the last surviving band from my youth with any sort of commercial clout. They have worked very hard for a very long time. But it’s difficult to truly appreciate exactly how big and enduring U2 are until you see how big they are here in the USA.

Like all great bands, U2 has a great manager in Paul McGuinness. He’s the account guy behind the agency if you will. And Paul McGuinness recognized early on the importance of cracking the American market. U2 largely ignored the UK market early in their career. Heresy at the time. But U2 always thought big. And they cannily used the then-nascent US college radio scene to break U2 to their natural audience: brooding college students. Brooding college students who then went on to become brooding adults. And Bono and co. became familar soulful friends. Lifelong friends.

U2’s music sounds real good on the car radio when you’re speeding down the highway in the USA. Tonight i found myself doing just that. They are promoting their new album and tour here. And U2 had control of the radio airwaves in three US cities – New York, Chicago and Boston. They were interviewed live by Shirley Manson from Garbage. This is the second night they have done so. Last night New York. Tomorrow they move onto Boston. And last week they played an unprecedented 5 consecutive nights on the David Letterman show. It all threatens to become a bit too much. But U2 are charming. Their performance rescues it. They have delivered for a very long time. Still a woefully bad band name choice though. A US spy plane from the 1960s? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Echo and the Bunnymen, now that’s a name.

I can remember when i was the generation that was supposed to be immune to advertising.

i love the recurring notion that any particular generation will “the one” that’s immune to advertising. yet it’s a myth that will not die. I can remember when i was the generation that was too savvy to fall for advertising’s tricks and gimmicks. And look what happened to me!

And now the “Internet generation” has been anointed as the ones who will finally put all of us in the ad game out of business. Apparently they shall grow up devoid of insecurities and will live in some sort of egalitarian Maoist consumer paradise where all purchases are made with ice-cold rationality. No room in their lives then for attending promises of betterment and cooler stuff. Not on your life! Contentment shall come from within.