See All Insights

Hitting the High Note: Apple, Jay Z, and the Importance of Deep Insights and Authenticity

About a year ago in September 2014, Apple users were met with (a mostly unwelcome) surprise when they opened their iTunes: among their library of personally curated music lay a pre-loaded U2 album called “Songs of Innocence.”

Many users felt confused, enraged, betrayed, and upset. The whole ordeal was pretty hilarious.



“The iTunes Store loaded a U2 album on my iPhone I did not order. Did someone hack my account? I don’t see any charges for these on my credit card. How do I delete these? They use up too much memory on my iPhone. How do I prevent this from happening again?” wrote one user on the Apple discussions board

In addition to the pre-loaded album being a general annoyance, the incident raised privacy concerns: Apple had populated users’ libraries with an album, without asking permission. Not cool, Apple. Not cool. 

In the end, Apple responded with a tool to remove the album (because it was apparently impossible to remove before). They also claimed that the album had been “experienced” by 33 million users (6.7% of the 500 million iTunes customers…you decide if that’s worth the $100 million investment). Bono offered a public apology. iTunes didn’t pre-load anymore U2 albums. And everything was right with the corporate music world.

Many communications people wondered what the heck Apple’s thoughts were behind this fiasco. It seems that Apple’s reasoning was essentially that people like free stuff, so shouldn’t they be happy with the free U2 album?

While I can only speculate about the type of research that was behind this decision, it doesn’t seem that Apple considered that 1) not everyone likes U2 (especially most people under the age of 40) and 2) pre-loading an album into someone’s personal iTunes without their consent is a blatant breech of privacy.

This situation is a perfect example of marketers relying on shallow insights to inform a decision. Deep insights are how you target a specific community and give them what they really want. Deep insights must go beyond simply concluding that people like free stuff and ask WHY people like the free stuff. They ask what type of free stuff people like. They ask what makes them like that type of free stuff. They ask why — over, and over, and over again, like a toddler trying to understand the world — until they get to the core of the belief. Until they get to the truest truth. Until they get to the album that people really want to hear.

Here’s a campaign that got the insights right — a campaign that asked, “why?”


Decoding What Music Fans Really Want

In continuing with the musical theme — in 2010, Jay Z wrote a book, Decoded — a narrative of his life which presented the inspiration of many of his song lyrics.

Agency Droga5 was met with a multi-pronged marketing challenge: They needed to draw attention to Decoded with a limited budget, given that hip-hop books have historically reported unsuccessful sales. Also, the mature content of the book made it unsuitable for many major retailers (such as Walmart). In addition, Droga5 partnered with Bing, and needed to find a way to drive users to the search engine.

After conducting surveys and interviewing their intended audience, Droga5 arrived at their big idea: Jay Z is famous for dotting his lyrics with metaphors and hidden meanings. And fans have longed to get closer to Jay Z by attempting to discover the locations, characters, and messages behind his cryptic and ingenious lyrics. Jay Z fans want to vicariously experience and celebrate Jay Z’s life behind the music so they can feel more connected and closer to him.

The plan: bring Jay Z’s book to life with the help of fans participating in an offline scavenger hunt and an interactive online map, through Bing.

“We’re trying to do something that’s consistent with the Jay-Z brand,” (Creative Chairman David) Droga explains. “He does all these incredibly bold things in the music industry. He wants to do the same thing to the publishing industry. What’s bolder than putting every single page of your book out in the real world, so if someone wanted to read it or discover it, they don’t have to buy the book? He’s so confident that the story’s compelling, the reader will get so caught up in looking at this that they’ll want to buy the book.”

Droga5 planted each page of Jay Z’s book in a real world location that spoke to the content on the page. Some pages were on billboards, while others existed at the bottom of the pool at Miami’s Delano Hotel, wrapped around a vintage Cadillac, on the sides of buildings, and inside the lining of a Gucci jacket. Clues were distributed through Jay Z’s social media. Once fans discovered a page in the “wild,” they marked it on a digital map through Bing. Fans worked together to find pages, and eventually complete the book before its launch. Pus, there was an incentive — the first players to find a page got a hard copy of the book signed by Jay Z, and all were entered into a chance to see Jay Z in concert on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

Decoded Pool

Decoded Gucci Jacket

Image from an UPROXX article about the Jay Z x Gucci decoded jacket.

The campaign was immensely successful: Decoded premiered at #3 on the NYT Best Sellers list, Bing’s market share increased to the highest percentage since its launch in 2009, and Droga5 won a Cannes Grand Prix for the campaign.


Push vs Pull

Apple pushed an album onto people, but Droga5 made people search — and because of their informed insights, knew that people actually wanted to search. Droga5 created a targeted, unique, and interesting experience that still felt authentic. Because there’s nothing really authentic about a tech conglomerate being like, “Yo, here’s a U2 album I thought you and millions of other users might like.”

Where Apple made risky assumptions, Droga5 kept asking “why” until they got to the core want of their intended audience: fans wanted to feel connected to Jay Z through decoding the meaning behind his lyrics. Authenticity is the key difference between a pre-loaded album that few people want and a successful interactive treasure hunt.

If you’d like to learn more the Decoded campaign, make sure you read the Droga5 case study.

Related Posts

Get the latest news and insights from New Kind

Get the latest news and insights from New Kind