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"We're suspicious of doing what's expected of us." — Edge

Vertigo 2005: Anatomy of a Marketing Disaster


There's been a lot of talk on the web about the ticketing nightmare U2 fans have faced when trying to get tickets for the upcoming Vertigo 2005 tour. While most fans I've heard from are angry, there have been some comments that the complainers are being unreasonable. Some have suggested that all fans should've realized that their $40 bought them nothing but a chance in a presale.

These comments gave me pause -- was it possible that I was so blind to miss the clear explanations on U2.Com that should've alerted me to my minimal chances at tickets? I am a notorious hoarder, so I still had all of the emails from the U2 marketing press that began when the new site was launched.

I present them to you, in order, so you can decide for yourself. You can click the link to read the entire email or story. Relevant sections are included here, with bold emphasis added by me.

The question: Were fans foolish to believe we had guaranteed tickets to at least one show?

Email #1: Sent to Propaganda Members on December 2, 2004

Q - As a subscriber I used to get priority booking for U2 concert tickets - will I still get this priority?
A - Yes, by joining U2.Com. Because your subscription to Propaganda was partly unfulfilled, U2.Com is now offering you half price membership to the all new U2.Com site. This membership also qualifies you for priority booking of concert tickets before they go on general sale in January.

Q - What about non-Propaganda subscribers who become members of U2.Com ?
A - All U2.Com members will be able to buy tickets for the 2005 Tour but Propaganda subscribers who join U2.Com go straight to the front of the line when the concert tickets are made available.

Q - How many tickets will I be able to buy under the priority booking arrangement as a member of U2.Com ?
A - You will be able to buy two tickets for any indoor U2 show or four tickets for any outdoor U2 show.

Q - What other benefits do subscribers to U2.Com receive ?
A - As well as guaranteed priority booking for concert sales, U2.Com members will also receive a special introductory gift - a stunning credit-card-shaped U2.Com membership card in silver, red and black...[more benefits follow.]

This email mentions guaranteed access to tickets in multiple locations. The most damning quote in here? "You will be able to buy two tickets for any indoor U2 show or four tickets for any outdoor U2 show." How is this unclear? This is almost exactly what former Propaganda subscribers used to receive on their ticket forms, and as a result of their applications, generally received two/four awesome tickets at the venue.

Then there's that quote for Propaganda members: "All U2.Com members will be able to buy tickets for the 2005 Tour but Propaganda subscribers who join U2.Com go straight to the front of the line when the concert tickets are made available." What happened to that? I joined U2.Com based on this email alone. I have email after email of login difficulties and frustration to prove I was one of the earliest subscribers (but that's a different article). When I paid my money I thought that I was guaranteed two tickets, and that -- since I would be at the "front of the line" -- they would surely be General Admission to at least one venue.

I've been a Propaganda member for three tours, and the fan club has always offered an opportunity to purchase a pair of tickets to multiple shows. My history with Propaganda has always provided me with great seats, so it is not unreasonable to assume that most Propaganda members would expect this to continue.

U2.Com does not explain in these early solicitations how or where this "guaranteed priority booking" would occur. In fact, the word "presale" doesn't appear in any communication until January 20th and "Ticketmaster" isn't mentioned in any communication until the presale emails went out. Given the absence of any clear explanation of the procedures, was it reasonable for former Propaganda subscribers to assume that fan club sales would be handled as they had been in the past, replacing online requests for mailed-in forms?

U2.Com News Story -- December 1

Talking of the tour, from today fans can also choose to become paid-up members of U2.Com - paying an annual subscription in return for a series of special benefits. These include: guaranteed priority booking opportunities when the Tour is announced; [more benefits listed].

Word is that an announcement on the tour is coming soon - all U2.Com members will be able to get priority booking options on two indoor tickets or four outdoor tickets - all ahead of the general public.

U2.Com members were not told at any point during the early marketing of U2.Com memberships that the "guaranteed priority booking" would, in fact, be a limited Ticketmaster-run presale. Most long-term U2 fans have been through those Ticketmaster presales before. These emails promised guaranteed priority booking options in exchange for paying an annual subscription.

U2.Com News Story -- December 10 (no longer in database)

As for the 2005 tour, he [Paul McGuinness] predicts it will be as exciting as ever -- some of the new songs are just begging for live performance. While the exact tour itinerary should be announced in the New Year, with tickets on sale later in January, members of U2.Com will get a window of opportunity ahead of everyone else to buy tickets of their choice at every venue.

This story promises members the ability to purchase the tickets of their choice at every venue along the tour. This is the grandest statement appearing at U2.Com -- but this story no longer appears in U2.Com's database. If you search for the story, it has been removed. (It was originally story id 1264).

Email #2: Push for New Members

This email was sent on December 15, 2004, to all who were registered for updates to U2.Com regardless of membership status.

And Members of the all-new U2.Com will be first in line for tickets with a guarantee of priority booking.

Members are offered the chance to book two indoor tickets or four outdoor tickets - BEFORE the general public sale of tickets.

If you are planning on seeing the band live in 2005, being a U2.Com Member offers you guaranteed priority booking come the New Year!

Here, the word "chance" creeps in for the first time, but it's surrounded by these quotes: "guaranteed priority booking come the New Year!" "And Members of the all-new U2.Com will be first in line for tickets with a guarantee of priority booking!" Guarantee of priority booking. Guarantee.

U2.Com News Story: January 6, 2005 (Members Only)

Just as soon as the dates are finalised, we will be mailing you the schedule of shows and giving you advance information as paid-up U2.Com Members on how you book your own tickets before the general ticket sale is announced.

Here's the U2.Com story that first tells us of the delayed tour announcement. In this email, we're told that we will receive information on how we book our own tickets. (Not how we participate in the limited presale).

U2.Com Story -- January 6, 2005 (everyone -- no longer in database)

This story was posted on January 6, 2005, for everyone at U2.Com. The story no longer appears in the U2.Com archive -- what now appears is a story that cuts off all the membership information.

And don't forget that if you want the very first information on the new tour* and a guarantee on being able to buy tickets ahead of the general sale, you might want to take up a U2.Com Membership.

You'll find all the information on the benefits of membership here. U2.Com Members qualify to book tickets before the general ticket sale is announced.

(I find it interesting and slightly troubling that this is the second article that I can no longer find at U2.Com.) This was a news story for all U2.com visitors (including those who have not yet paid their membership fee) promising "a guarantee on being able to buy tickets ahead of the general sale" and urging people to subscribe to get that benefit. "U2.Com Members qualify to book tickets before the general ticket sale is announced." Have these articles been removed because of the uproar?

Email #3: January 15, 2005

Don't forget, if you have paid for a SUBSCRIPTION to U2.Com, you will receive priority ticketing options on all venues, a few days ahead of the general sale.

The quotes are becoming a little less direct -- we are now down to "priority ticketing options." What is key to point out, however, is at this point most U2.Com members had already paid (It was 45 days past the site launch) and U2 is still soliciting members to its fan club even though the membership ranks had probably already swelled well beyond what they would be able to honor in the ticket presale. This email also mentions that you have options at "all venues." Clearly no hint of the one show restriction that was on the way.

Although we as fans had no idea at this point, surely U2's management had to realize they would be offering a Ticketmaster-run presale and that only 10% of the tickets in each venue would be available. Yet they continued to push people to join, touting the advanced bookings as a major benefit of membership.

U2.Com Story: January 20, 2005

(We'll also be mailing U2.Com Members with details of how they can participate in the ticket presale next week)

The very first mention of a presale. But we've all already ponied up the $40. In fact, fans didn't realize until just a few days before the tour announcement that Ticketmaster would be handling this as an internet-based presale, even though fans had been asking about it in Zootopia since the new U2.com launched.

U2.Com Story: January 21, 2005

U2's 2005 'Vertigo Tour' is launched Monday - anyone wanting to be part of the presale, would be well advised to subscribe to U2.Com by Monday night!

Meantime, word is that due to anticipated demand, fans interested in taking part in the advance ticket sale (open only to subscribed members of U2.Com) should take out a subscription by Monday night latest - just to be on the safe side!

This story, posted just a few days before the presale started -- was still pushing memberships. This does mention presale instead of guaranteed booking. Although membership had already far exceeded what tickets would be available, U2.Com was still urging paid membership subscriptions at the last minute, without mentioning that ticket sales would be limited.

Email #4: January 22, 2005

Q - When is the latest I can join U2.Com to be involved in the Internet ticket pre-sale? A - You must have joined U2.Com by Monday evening 24th January to gain access to the Internet ticket pre-sale, which will cover the bands first North American leg and the European leg of the 2005 tour.

Q - Do I have to buy my presale tickets in a timeframe?
A - U2.Com have secured the best tickets available for our Subscribers, but there is a limit to how many there are so they will be sold on a 'first come first served' basis. U2.Com has a window of only a few days (details will be posted on U2.Com) before all remaining tickets go on sale to the general public.

Q - How Many Tickets Can I buy?
A - As a Paid-up U2.Com Subscriber you will be able to purchase up to two (2) tickets for any one (1) indoor show (North America) or up to four (4) tickets for any one (1) outdoor show (Europe).

Q - Will I get better seats than the general public?
A - U2.Com have secured some of the best available tickets for U2.Com Subscribers.This is the first we hear of limits on tickets.

This is the first we hear of show limits. And it's the week before the presale. But we do have a promise here of the best seats being reserved for U2.Com members. Based on postings from forums and mailing lists, it's clear this did not happen. There is still no mention that the ticket limits are by address and not by U2.Com membership -- this actually comes out at the presale.

U2.Com Story: January 23, 2005

Once again, U2 will offer General Admission floor tickets giving fans the best view in the house for the lowest ticket price. Reserved seat tickets in the stands will also be available. In North America, general admission floor tickets will be $49.50 (plus applicable service fees). Additional ticket prices will vary per market.

Paid-up subscribers to U2.Com http://www.u2.com/subscribe can take part in a presale of tour tickets which begins on Tuesday 25th January, four days ahead of the general onsale - they will receive an e-mail about this direct with booking information.

Here's the acknowledgement from U2.Com that General Admission is the most desirable ticket in the house, even though -- as we know now -- very few General Admission tickets were offered in the presale. Also note that there is now no mention of "guaranteed priority booking" in any of these emails.

So there you have the timeline of the marketing of U2.Com membership.

Based on the evidence of what U2.com said in both emails and news stories, it seems reasonable to feel that what happened last week is not what we paid for, and not what we were promised.

@U2/Page, 2005.