U2 Falls Off Apple Cart

Band, Long-Associated With iPod-Maker, Partners with RIM's Blackberry

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There are probably few artists as closely tied to a piece of hardware as U2 is to the iPod. The band appeared in two TV campaigns and had two different generations of red-and-black, band-branded iPods and also played at one of Steve Jobs' signature unveiling events. Now, with a sponsored global tour to promote their new album "No Line on the Horizon," the band has left Apple for RIM's Blackberry.

Burn.

This move seems guaranteed to send Jobs conspiracy theorists and Apple fatalists off to the woodshed. And, in a release, U2's manager Paul McGuinness indicated that the prominent tour sponsorship will go beyond signage: "This tour announcement marks the first stage of a relationship and shared vision between RIM and U2 that we expect will lead to new and innovative ways to enhance the mobile music experience on the BlackBerry platform for U2 fans. We look forward to sharing more details as the relationship unfolds."

As Apple Insider points out, Steve Jobs said something similar five years ago about his own brand's synergies with the group: "U2 is one of the greatest bands in the world and we are floored to be working with them ... We just want to make some innovative products together, and we hope U2 fans will love having their very own special edition iPod."

Of course, we should point out that, in 2004, Apple wasn't in the mobile handset market and thus, not a competitor to the Blackberry, and U2 has been absent from iPhone marketing. Nevertheless, the way Apple skillfully merged the iPod and iPhone brands -- Jobs:"the best iPod we've ever made" -- has made it hard to distinguish between the two in our minds. Which could make the Blackberry partnership weaker for consumers who still remember big ads like this:

U2 doesn't seem to approaching these partnerships from a branding perspective as much as a purely financial one, and the band holds the emotional connection that Apple and RIM are looking for, so it's hard to blame them. The allegiance-switch isn't really about their brand but their partner brands, and clearly, Bono & Co. are willing to take their cache wherever they can find the best return. As CNBC's Jim Goldman points out, U2's venture firm Elevation Partners owns 39% of a third mobile hardware company: Palm, whose Pre, set to launch this summer, will be the iPhone's stiffest competition yet.

[press release]