Silhouettes and Synergy
By Thomas Mucha

(Business 2.0) – The ads were ubiquitous last autumn: U2 rocking out in the black-shadow style of Apple's colorful iPod campaign. Annoying? To some, no doubt. Effective? You bet.

Thanks to a smart decision to cross-promote two well-known entertainment brands—a collaboration hatched by U2 lead singer Bono and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who are longtime friends—each side contributed an edgy dose of cool to the advertising effort, which was produced by TBWA/Chiat/Day. "U2 exudes everything Apple wants to stand for—and vice versa," says Joseph Jaffe, president of Jaffe marketing consultancy. "Independence, creativity, self-expression, and authenticity."

The pairing scored with music fans. Following its exclusive release on Apple's iTunes Music Store, U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb went on to top the iTunes sales charts for weeks after its late-November debut. Offline the album launched at the top of the U.S. pop charts, selling almost twice as many copies as U2's last U.S. release did during its first week—a success that rescued the band from the purgatory of "classic rock" status.

For this, U2 and its Interscope/Geffen/A&M label credit iTunes and the $20 million TV campaign Apple undertook to back the partnership. (U2 agreed to appear in the ads for free.) As Bono put it, "We want our audience to have a more intimate online relationship with the band, and Apple can help us do that."

Independent of download revenue, Apple also used the U2 campaign to send a powerful message to Microsoft, RealNetworks, Sony, and other competitors that hope to cut into iTunes's 70 percent market share for online song downloads: Back off. "It's game, set, and match," Jaffe says. "Word of mouth built the iPod/iTunes franchise, and the U2 campaign has solidified it." — THOMAS MUCHA