Marketing U2’s ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’*

December 27, 2004

By Chrissi Blaesing

During the summer months, as fans awaited the release of U2′s new album, a report surfaced that the band would be launching a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to promote "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," the band’s 11th studio album. Many fans were bemused with the idea that marketing campaign for a U2 album would have to be so large for a band that, by all reports, still holds the title of "world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band."

But U2 and Principle Management understood why a large marketing blitz was necessary. The landscape of the music industry has shifted so drastically in recent years that even a venerable band like U2 has trouble getting its music to the general public. As fans speculated over what the marketing effort would entail, reports surfaced on the increasing partnership between U2 and Apple. U2 has been a long-time Apple supporter, most recently with the launch of the iTunes music store.

In late July after an unmixed copy of the new album was stolen, Bono stated that if the album ended up on the internet, U2 would instantly release it on iTunes. The complete album never did surface. By late September, U2′s first single "Vertigo" was released exclusively on iTunes, where the single remains one of the most-downloaded songs on the site. In mid-October, U2 and Apple further cemented their partnership with a first for both—a television commercial starring U2. Apple’s innovative commercials for their iPod and iTunes music store usually feature music from up-and-coming artists like Jet and the Black Eyed Peas as silhouetted performers dance on a colored background. The new ads, directed by Mark Romanek, premiered during several prime time shows, including the American League Championship Series, and featured not only the song "Vertigo" but also U2 itself. The end of the ad spelled out the partnership for everyone to see: iPod by Apple and "Vertigo by U2."

While some fans were dismayed at the sell-out factor of the commercial, the fact remained that the single and U2 were getting crucial prime-time exposure to casual fans probably unaware that a new album was in the offing.

The placement of the ad during a variety of programs including the ALCS on Fox, NBC’s comedy "Scrubs" and the WB’s teen soap "One Tree Hill" also ensured that several different target groups would be able to preview the new single. In an article in the Boston Globe the issue was raised that currently the music industry’s "formats and playlists are so tightly regimented there’s no reason for U2 to assume it will receive the kind of promotional push it’s enjoyed in the past." Indeed, although the video for "Vertigo" has been in heavy rotation during the morning hours on VH1 and MTV, the time period when videos are shown on both channels, the video has failed to make it to "TRL’s" Top 10 requested videos, a chart influenced by teenagers.

Apple and U2′s partnership was taken to a new level at a special press conference in San Jose on October 26 when Apple’s Steve Jobs was joined by Bono and The Edge to unveil a new 20GB limited-edition U2 iPod and an exclusive digital boxed set consisting of all of U2′s official recordings, plus 25 previously-unreleased tracks. In an interview with CNBC’s Ron Insana on October 27, The Edge was quick to dispel rumors that U2 was "selling out" with the Apple partnership:

"Well our position on sponsorship hasn’t changed, it’s always been that we do not sell our reputation or our fans’ regard for our work to anybody. But this is a different thing, this is a technology partnership. It’s a very clean, straightforward relationship; we’re selling U2 branded iPods…and we’re selling our music on iTunes. We just get the share of the revenues earned by these two releases. That’s it—plain and simple. We’re also in an iTunes ad because iTunes, as a music distribution system, is promoting our music."

Apart from U2′s alliance with Apple, plans were made to place new songs from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" on several television shows. "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" appeared on Fox’s "The OC" in early December. The show, in its second season, is primarily watched by a teenage fan base has been a showcase for up-and-coming artists like Death Cab for Cutie and The Walkmen. To target different demographics, namely adults and seniors, CBS’s hit show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" has already featured the "Vertigo" single in an opening sequence with plans on using two more songs off "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" in the coming weeks.

While the marketing campaign has thus far been targeted at the casual or new U2 fan, plans for the album’s release had more of U2′s core fan base in mind. U2 has always had a special relationship with its core fan base, something Bono pointed out in an interview with Alastair Campbell. "That what’s striking about U2 is that we have two lives as a band," he said. "We have this one line, life, under the wire, you know, which is our relationship with our audience. You know, it’s a huge audience. Like, we’re the biggest cult band in the world, really. And…then you got this other one, the one that is the media."

With this relationship in mind, U2 created extras to be packaged with the "Vertigo" single and "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" album. The "Vertigo" single, according to, comes in three different formats, including a DVD version with the Hanover Quay video for "Vertigo." An exclusive photo gallery by Anton Corbijn also accompanies the DVD single. The album itself comes in not only the standard CD release but also a limited edition album CD/DVD including interviews and performances of some of the new songs. A special deluxe limited edition features a 48-page hardcover book that states has "extracts from band member note books, original paintings, illustrations and photography along with quotes and statistics." A vinyl version is also available.

Also on the horizon for U2 fans, according to an article in Newsweek, is the possible expansion of the Apple/U2 partnership with the offering of concert recordings at the iTunes music store. "We’re getting ready to do it," says Apple’s Jobs. "Wouldn’t it be great if the morning after the concert, you can buy it on iTunes?"

As the official release of the album drew near, U2 scheduled a series of interviews and performances both in Great Britain and the United States. A performance out of U2′s own Hanover Quay studios was broadcast on BBC’s Radio 1. In New York City, U2 performed three songs during the broadcast of "Saturday Night Live." That same weekend, New York City-based radio station K-ROCK held a listening party with bands and fans that also included a Q&A session.

On the eve of the American release of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," U2 stepped up its marketing campaign with a mini-tour of Manhattan on the back of a flatbed truck. The band used this opportunity to film a music video with "Rattle and Hum" director Phil Joanou for new North American single "All Because of You." The road show ended with a free concert at the Empire Fulton Ferry State Park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, highlights of which were aired on the show "mtvJammed." A week later the band was in Dublin, walking the streets and playing at the Gaiety Theater as part of the filming of its second worldwide single, "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own."

As the music landscape continues to change form, U2 has adapted far more than other bands, embracing new technology and media to showcase its music. Though U2 and Principle Management launched an impressive marketing campaign aimed at both new and old U2 fans to promote "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," the fact remained that even the most impressive campaign would fail if the product was substandard. This, however, is now the case with "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," praised by fans and critics alike and debuted at the top of sales charts worldwide. In the case of advertising this album it’s very simple—a great album deserves great marketing.

Introspect: Band Aid: A Personal Remembrance*

December 27, 2004

By Debbie Kreuser

I have many memories of 1984. It was the year my daughter turned 3. It was the year Geraldine Ferraro was chosen the first female vice presidential candidate by a major U.S. political party (Democrat). It would turn out to be a year of famine and despair in the Horn of Africa, especially for Ethiopia. But 1984 would also turn out to be a year of concern and action worldwide to help the millions of people caught up in this tragedy, that collective response spearheaded by the release of "Do They Know It’s Christmas?"

Band Aid was conceived when Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats called Ultravox’s Midge Ure and suggested that they write and record a song to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia after Geldof had seen the BBC report by Michael Buerck on Oct. 23 1984 on the growing crisis in Ethiopia. Within a month’s time, the song "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" was written. On Nov. 21, 1984, 36 of Britain’s top popular music performers assembled at Sarm Studios in London to record the song.

The song and the accompanying video were an immediate success. The song, decorated by chiming seasonal bells in the background and replete with thought-provoking lyrics, had plenty of sincerely sung vocals framed around a definite rock ‘n’ roll beat. It was just what we needed to motivate us around the world to action to help those caught up in the Ethiopian famine.

Over 3.5 million copies of the single were sold, raising over 8 million British pounds (about $12 million at the time) for famine relief in Ethiopia. The song would become the second best-selling single of all time in Great Britain and went to No. 1 in 12 other countries.

Twenty years later, in 2004, with a humanitarian crisis developing in the Darfur region of Sudan, a country where at least 1.6 million people are displaced from their villages and on the verge of massive hunger, Geldof and Ure conspired to craft a new Band Aid, called Band Aid 20, along with a slightly revamped and updated version of "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" a song including the lyrics of rapper Dizzee Rascal: “You ain’t gotta feel guilt, just selfless. Give a little help to the helpless.”

On Nov. 14 2004, many of today’s top British pop performers, including neo-soul songstress Joss Stone and The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins, came together to record the newest version of "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" with Bono reprising his famous line from the original song “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”. The record and accompanying video were released on Nov. 29, 2004. So far, Band Aid 20′s effort has brought the song once again to the top of the international music charts, even capturing the coveted Christmas No. 1 in Great Britain, hopefully surpassing the original amount of money made by the first Band Aid.

Some have criticized Band Aid 20 singers for their "uninspired performances" on this latest version of "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" but I think that is an unfair criticism. As someone who was motivated by the first Band Aid to "feed the world,” I welcome any attempt to inform others of the enormity of the problem of global famine and to raise money to help some of the 10 million people who will otherwise die this year somewhere in the world from hunger.

If Band Aid 20 can renew our interest and our commitment to help the truly needy in our world, then 2004 will become another year that I will remember for all the right reasons.

For more info on Band Aid 20, visit:

U-toons: Rejoice *

December 22, 2004


By Robert M. Wolpert

Fan Reaction: Problems With New Memberships*

December 20, 2004

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

I was definitely more of a casual U2 fan before 2001′s Elevation tour. After snagging tickets to the group’s first LA appearance that November, I became hooked. I signed up on Zootopia—’s official message board—and, inspired by stories of ticket presales and members-only CDs, joined Propaganda, the official U2 fan club.

A little less than a year later I got my first, and only, issue of its fan club magazine. For nearly three years there was no official word that Propaganda had disbanded. Even after the compilation book "U2: Propaganda—20 Years of the Official U2 Magazine" came out, no one knew definitively if the fan club was over.

With the launch of the new U2 album came a redesigned and official word that Propaganda was moving from the print world online. For $40 a year, members could enjoy many of the same benefits old fan club members enjoyed, including presales on tickets for the upcoming tour. As a thank you to all the Propaganda members who, like myself, never got their complete subscriptions fulfilled, membership was offered at half-price. All you had to do was wait for an invitation letter to arrive in the mail.

Letters were sent out the last week of November. Nearly three weeks later, I still haven’t gotten my letter. By scanning’s message boards I’ve learned I’m not alone. Dozens of other fans who joined in the last few years (between 2000 and 2002 when Propaganda stopped taking new members) have not received their letters either. Phone calls have been made and e-mails sent to figure out what’s going on. Thus far, it seems no one has received a satisfactory response.

I myself have sent several e-mails with my Propaganda ID number, including one through’s new web form. Two of those e-mails got me a form e-mail that answered none of my questions. Finally I e-mailed Cecilia Coffey with Principle Management who has promised me she’ll look into this. I’m cautiously optimistic she’ll be able to help me.

Other fans have not gotten such positive responses. member Monkey79 has contacted Fanfire, the company now managing U2′s fan club, twice this month. He joined Propaganda in May of 2001, receiving two issues of the fan magazine (half of the four promised subscribers) and was able to get two general admission Elevation tickets through the club. Because he doesn’t have his original Propaganda ID number, Fanfire has not yet been able to track down Monkey79′s information. "I do feel somewhat shafted since I gave them my $20 and didn’t receive a full allotment of issues," he says. "I thought the idea of getting a break on the membership was cool but it looks like they screwed that up, too."

u2valleygirl, who joined Propaganda in 2001 and only received one magazine, has contacted Fanfire four times. "The first time they told me my letter was on the way, second time same thing," she says. "Third time they could not find me in the database and would have Terri [Panaro, also with Propaganda] call me. Fourth time my name was not in the database, Terri would call me and there was not much I could do. They did not have my number or any record that I had ever joined."

Other fans who joined in 2001, like BostonAnne, anitram, youtwohearts, LarryMullen’s_POPAngel and MissVelvetDress_75, also have not gotten letters and have tried contacting Fanfire to find out why they were left off the member list. "I was told that they used an old database and the letter was sent to my old address, even though I had submitted an address change form to Prop," anitram says. "Then I was told I was not in their system. Then I was told that somebody would give me a call with my new code. Then I was told that there is only one person there handling the codes, but every time I specifically asked for her she was either out or ‘busy.’"

Other fans are experiencing a similar run-around. "I called on December 8 and spoke to a rep," BostonAnne says. "She insisted that I didn’t get my letter because my subscription expired." This wasn’t true in her case, or when MissVelvetDress_75, youtwohearts and myself were told the same thing. "I got the same generic letter saying that they could not find my information and that my membership must have lapsed," youtwohearts says. "I did write them back and said not only did my membership not lapse but they (Propaganda) never even filled their end of the contract. To that I have not received a response."

So what’s a frustrated fan to do? A few have bitten the bullet and joined the new fan club for the full $40 price. "I’ve joined the new Prop at $40," says ascender_RS who has been a member of Propaganda for 17 years and had two issues left on his most recent subscription. "Thankfully to me the $40 isn’t a big deal but I do feel sorry for those who can’t afford to just go out and buy it regardless. Added to the wasted money from their last subscription, it’s really sad to this from this band."

LarryMullen’s_POPAngel, who joined in 2001 and received two magazine and priority tickets for Elevation, also got tired of the wait and joined the club at full price. "I already have [joined] after being told that I would eventually get my Prop code and be eligible for a $20 discount," she says. "Of course, that hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t look as if it will."

BostonAnne has also been promised she’d get a refund if she joined at full price now. anitram, though, got a different story. "I was told that even if I joined for $40 they were not required to pay me back the $20 later," she says.

At least one fan has had enough. "No, I will not join the new Prop," says MissVelvetDress_75, who joined in 2001 and received an Elevation presale letter after the tour was already sold out. "I am very disappointed with the level of service that has been provided to the loyal fans of U2. I feel that our memberships should have been honored and there should be more assistance to helping fans like myself out who joined Propaganda in 2001."

Even for those who have joined the new fan club, though, there is concern over whether this membership will get them what they really want—concert tickets. "What I would like them to do [is] fix the problems," says youtwohearts. "What is going to happen when tickets go on sale?"

With a ticket announcement expected in a few weeks, Fanfire is undoubtedly being flooded with orders for memberships, both from brand new members and people who belonged to Propaganda. In the midst of such a flurry, what can they do? "I just believe they need to get more people to work on the Propaganda problem," says U2SJ, who joined in 2000 and received two issues and Elevation tickets. "Multiple people at Fanfire tell me they only have one person working on all the Prop issues. That is ridiculous considering how many people are having problems."

For some, though, this latest snag is just the kind of thing they’ve come to expect from Propaganda. "The one failing of the magazine from the start has been it’s unreliable nature," says ascender_RS. "There has never been an easy way to get in touch with them to query your subscription details, it just smacks of unprofessionalism. In this day and age a band like U2 should be able to put a wee bit of time and money into getting a professionally-run fan club."

Regardless of whether they’ve joined the new fan club or not, this group of fans all agree that something must be done. "[I'd like to see] a full refund for a Prop members who either signed up with a code or who signed up for the $40 after being led to believe they could later get the discount," LarryMullen’s_POPAngel says. "The manner in which this was handled has been atrocious."

In the meantime I’ll keep checking my mailbox, hoping that through some miracle my letter does show up. Hopefully it will come before the upcoming tour has sold out.

Review: Sometimes You Can Write an Instant Classic*

December 20, 2004

Ed. Note: In the weeks since "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was released, fans have already begun measuring it against U2′s best. One song in particular, "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," seems destined to be a U2 classic. Proving this point, we have two different reviews of the new single, one from Amjad M. Khan and one from Sharon Swadis.

Amjad M. Khan

"Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," the third track off U2’s latest album, already ranks as one of the band’s most memorable ballads. A gut-wrenching, soulful lament about the death of Bono’s father, the song delves into the frustration, hopelessness and desperation that accompany the death of a loved one. Every aspect of the song reflects that theme; The Edge’s mournful guitar, Adam Clayton’s haunting bass line, Larry Mullen Jr.’s indifferent drum beats, and Bono’s somber, eulogizing vocal.

"Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" is an epic journey. The ballad’s first word is a defiant metaphor—“tough.” Bob Hewson, Bono’s late father, is somewhat dehumanized here; he’s not a person in this song but an idea, so much so that Bono originally considered calling the song "Tough.” "You think you’ve got the stuff," Bono sings, "You’re telling me and anyone you’re hard enough." But there emerges an opportunity that Bono’s father and Bono himself have heretofore ignored. Bono pontificates: "You don’t have to put up a fight, you don’t always have to be right." Beneath the stubbornness outwardly manifested in their lives lies the faded recognition that Bono himself could have been his father’s protection as he sings, "Let me take some of the punches for you tonight" It’s a recognition that Bono yearns to have felt when his father was alive, crying out: "Listen to me now, I need to let you know, you don’t have to go it alone."

The song then shifts to a majestic falsetto from which emerges Bono’s tender confession: "And it’s you when I look in the mirror, and it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone." Bono next alludes to what seems to be a major characteristic of his relationship with his father—unending quarrelling. But where before Bono may have considered his insurmountable differences to be at the heart of their disagreements, he now offers another explanation: "We’re the same soul," he solemnly concludes. In fact, the reality is that it is Bono’s similarities with his father that are the source of the tension and not the differences: "If we weren’t so alike, you’d like me a whole lot more.”

The song takes a dramatic turn as Bono seems to confront himself, wondering why his father won’t answer back and why he couldn’t tell his father what he meant to him. The answer is captured in the most memorable line of the song: "You’re the reason why the opera is in me" While Bono’s father was known to be an opera singer, the line also refers to the frenzied beauty of opera itself, a medium that may encapsulate the substance of Bono’s relationship with his father.

Attempting to bring closure to his father’s death, Bono concludes by asking the fateful question: "Where are we now?" All that remains is the physical grave of Bono’s father, a cold, stone exterior. But "a house doesn’t make a home," Bono reminds himself and his father. Weary, alone and in despair, Bono can only deliver an adolescent cry: "Don’t leave me here all alone!" Finally, as if attempting to regain courage, he comforts himself by deception. "The best you can do is to fake it," Bono reminds all those who believe they can live their lives comfortably without the help of a lost loved one. To Bono, it’s simply an undeniable fact that "Sometimes you can’t make it on your own."

By Sharon Swadis

The wait is over—the album’s hit the charts, a new video’s hitting the airwaves and a tour has been promised. There’s even an updated official website. For me, the release of "Vertigo" marks the start of U2 mania once again, and it’s been too long in the making.

As early reviews came in, I was happy to hear this album marked a return to a more ‘80s U2 sound. When I first became a U2 fan it was very much an Edge thing, and hearing the guitar-driven "Vertigo" was just fine with me. But while I’m currently busy trying to play along with every guitar riff on "Vertigo," my favorite song, as it turns out, is not centered on Edge’s guitar work—instead it’s a ballad.

"Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" is a song that instantly touched my soul— an ode to Bono’s father, Bob Hewson, who died three years ago. I also lost my father a few years ago and when I listen to this song I feel Bono’s pain as it becomes my own.

It is a song about loss, but more so about love. Bono’s bittersweet lyrics run deep, spanning the gamut of gratitude, mournful sorrow and eternal frustration. When Bono says, "You’re the reason I sing/You’re the reason the opera is in me," he’s immortalizing perhaps his greatest debt to his father—his voice. Bob was a singer, a tenor, who loved opera. Debt aside, Bono doesn’t pretend they had a perfect relationship. Bono says "A house still doesn’t make a home," a reference to how, as Bono has said in many interviews, his father tried but couldn’t make up for the loss of Bono’s mother, who died when he was a teenager. Bono says "We fight all the time," but, "that’s alright," even as he says he doesn’t need to hear his father tell him he’d like him more if "we weren’t so alike." It really is all right, though. What relationship is perfect? I didn’t have a perfect relationship with my father, either, and my gratitude and love for him is tinged with bittersweet memories. But you’re still family, you still love each other, and by the time Bono says, "Don’t leave me here alone," I’m crying for him, and with him every time I listen to the song.

This song has many similarities to U2′s earlier classic "One." "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," like "One," is a song about a relationship between a parent and child. But also like "One," "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" is a song that transcends the literal and becomes your song, too. The song touches me as a daughter who lost her father, but it could be about losing a father or mother, a brother, sister, friend or lover. It’s a song anyone who’s ever felt a deep loss can relate to.

Much of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" is blissfully Edgian in its guitar riffs (thank you, Edge) a blatant celebration of the U2 sound, matured and refined with age, and more than willing to change with the times, but still U2. "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" starts out as a mellow ballad but soon soars to familiar U2 heights. Bono’s voice soars with wings of its own, as it always does when he’s singing from deep within his soul. Whether it’s the emotionality of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" or the mournful plea of "With or Without You," his voice tells the story.

In 2000 Bono told The Irish Times, "I’ve been playing with some masks and that’s been good fun, but for a U2 song to succeed in performance I have to climb right inside it. Or else I can’t hit those big notes. I have to be lost in it." In this case, he is the song, there’s no hiding behind Fly shades here. Whether or not Bono chooses to wear shades on stage for the upcoming tour, he’ll be wearing his heart on his sleeve when he sings "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own." I personally hope the shades are off.

There’s always one special U2 song I hope they play live when they come to Philadelphia, and this is it. I have a feeling I won’t be the only one singing and crying with Bono and for him.

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