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iTunes Beatles Announcement: WOM PR Disaster or Standard Issue PR?

I’m a huge Beatles fan. So is my husband. We live on Penny Lane in Strawberry Field subdivision (My husband was the developer and named the subdivision and the roads.)

We’ve been waiting forever for The Beatles to appear on iTunes, but alas, when this announcement was leaked I realized we had spent the better part of the last decade digitizing our Beatles library. So, there’s really no point in us bothering to buy Beatles from iTunes now.

From a PR and WOM standpoint, I thought it would be interesting to review the pros and cons of the announcement.

Media Viewpoint

I read PC Magazine’s review of the announcement and agreed with the author’s point about Apple overplaying its own hype when a one paragraph release would do.

Apple iTunes and The Beatles Come Together, So What?

Here’s a sampling from the article:

Apple iTunes and The Beatles Come Together, So What?

Apple finally gets its band; we get a whole lot of hoopla, and are left yearning for more.

…Their story and the musical legacy they’ve left behind (before breaking up in the early 70′s) is stuff of legend. So why, after today’s long-awaited announcement am I thinking, “Is that all there is?”

I blame Apple. Only the fruit-logoed company would have the hubris to make an “event” out a press release. Seriously, this is a paragraph-long announcement that Apple tried to turn into a mini event by promising us yesterday: “Tomorrow’s just another day. That you’ll never forget”…

The author goes on to make the point that the announcement is too little too late – that this would have been a big announcement five years ago. When you get people excited for a big announcement and then deliver mediocre news, it isn’t good PR.

Basically, the point is to not cry wolf to the media, or you’ll get called on it. And PCMag called Apple on it.

Now, for a different perspective…

Corporate Viewpoint

There are always two sides to every story. Apple is known for being creative, yet direct and consistent in how it delivers corporate communications.

PR veteran Carmine Gallo explains the method behind Apple’s communications approach on his PR Breakfast Club blog PR Lessons from the Apple-Beatles Launch http://prbreakfastclub.com/2010/11/19/pr-lessons-apple-beatles/#ixzz16n0ujF00

From a PR perspective, the announcement offers three simple, effective lessons in “buzz” marketing; techniques reviewed in my new book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Although the book was published prior to the Beatles release, Apple’s 3-step PR launch remains remarkably consistent—whether Apple is unveiling new iTunes music, a new computer, iPods, or iPads.

Build the suspense. One day prior to the announcement, On Monday, November 15, Apple took down all product promotions and images from its homepage and replaced it with a simple, but perplexing sentence that teased its customers: “Tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.” It also listed the time of the announcement. Now, it’s true that most everyday press announcements are not issued by companies like Apple, whose every move is closely tracked by rapid fans the world over. But it shows that Apple has fun with its communication. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Apple also realizes that buzz is built early, well before the actual product launch.

Eliminate the clutter. On Tuesday, November 16, as soon as the announcement was made, Apple replaced the tease on its Website with one photograph of the Beatles. The headline read: The Beatles. Now on iTunes. That’s it. Classic Apple. The company follows this process for every major product launch—Anything that distracts from the core message is removed from the Web site. Where most companies would add the news, Apple removes. The result is clean, elegant, and simple to understand.

Keep it consistent. At the same time as the Website redesign, Apple released a press release with exactly the same headline as the Web site: The Beatles. Now on iTunes. A few hours later, an email was distributed to Apple customers. The subject line? You guessed it: The Beatles. Now on iTunes. Walk into an Apple store, and you will see the same headline on posters and ads. The message is consistently communicated in all marketing, advertising and public relations material.

Point, Counterpoint Summary

No matter how well planned and executed a company’s PR plan is, there will always be someone who finds fault with it. But the point is to be prepared, stick to your principles, and be ready with a response or action plan as necessary.

In this case, Apple was counting on a mass of positive Word of Mouth from the Beatles news, but the build up and leaks and underwhelming news put negative spin on an otherwise long-awaited announcement.

In case you missed it, here’s the official Apple press release http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/11/16itunes.html


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