It was in 2007 that Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, a prototype that would become one of the most successful technology products of all time.
In that same year, iTunes Festival first opened its doors. Apple customers were promised a glittering line-up of top musical talent every September, primarily held at Camden Roundhouse, a world-famous live performance space.
That Apple ditched the iTunes brand in 2015, renaming the event Apple Music Festival and scaling back to just 10 concerts (rather than a month-long bill), means that its closure shouldn’t come as a total surprise.
But what does it mean?
Events are the ultimate brand experience. Brands use them as a beacon atop all marketing activity, to amplify their core proposition and offerings to customers. To ensure they succeed, their foundations need to be strong.
Back in 2007, it made complete sense for Apple to host its own music event. At the time, there was an iPod in practically every pocket. Its iTunes service had already transformed the music industry, leading to what we have today.
Before, consumers would buy an album and the artist would be paid upfront. Concerts and tours generated awareness of the album, with a smaller amount of money received in proportion to the album deal.
Now, the consumer streams the album as many times as they want and the artist is paid over a longer timeframe. Instead of driving awareness of the album, concerts and tours are all about the artist, with much more money being gained through live events than albums.
This shift is largely due to Apple, and there is no doubting the relevance of music streaming today. Instead, the thing that has lost relevance in music is Apple.
The fact that Taylor Swift rejected Spotify in favour of an exclusive deal with Apple Music, before later doing a U-turn and rebuffing Apple for Spotify, is proof enough. Apple’s game-changing iPod was all about music downloads, a model that consumers just don’t use today. Other brands provided better services, outstripping Apple.
Of course, Apple slowly severing ties with its music heritage isn’t accidental. By the time the first iPhone was unveiled, the iPod already had video capabilities and even games. Apple’s shift toward different kinds of content and services was already well under way.
The bigger picture
As marketers, it is our job to analyse these seemingly momentous occasions. Apple Music Festival closing down is certainly the end of an era, but it was not unexpected, nor does it reflect badly on events in general.
The fact that Spotify announced a new music event, Who We Be, moments after Apple Music Festival publicised its closure, should help dispel any doubt. Branded music events are still current – but Apple has passed the baton on.
In reality, Apple’s decision is basic hygiene. The event no longer makes sense for its customers or the brand. But, as a massive brand that almost always tops the best-loved lists, there is no doubt that Apple should continue to run events. What better way to connect people with the brand on its own terms?
On 12 September, just days after announcing the festival’s closure, Apple hosted its annual product event at the Steve Jobs Theatre, a centrepiece of stunning design in its new Apple Park. The timing of the event, which unveiled its next-generation product suite at its plush new campus, could not have been better to demonstrate that innovation, rather than its music legacy, is once again Apple’s headline act.
Rachel Bateman is head of live engagement at Initials