Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Did Adobe Miss Out on a Golden Marketing Opportunity?

On January 8th, Adobe unintentionally did something that went viral. Users found public serial numbers and links to download the entire library of an old version of their Creative Suite, CS2 (Photoshop, Illustrator, the whole works), and publicized it as a free offer. It quickly spread.

Adobe CS2 for free

Screenshot of the download links and serial numbers

After a short while, the page was either taken down or the servers overloaded while Adobe issued statements to clarify that it was NOT, in fact, a free promotional offer. Downloads were only intended for those who had already purchased a CS2 software license and were still running the 7-year-old suite.

The download page remains live (with a disclaimer), but because there’s little to stop anyone from downloading and running these programs without purchasing a copy begs the question:

Why doesn’t Adobe just offer the software for free

and take advantage of the publicity?

How did this happen?

This all started when Adobe decided that their outdated software suite no longer warranted the activation servers it requires for license verification. The software is no longer supported by Adobe and is essentially being given its final resting place through a serious reduction in DRM restrictions.

But, instead of making users somehow prove they are owners of a legitimate licensed copy, Adobe created a public web page with download links, traditional serial registrations, and a list of serial numbers. Users don’t even need to register or sign in to their Adobe account to see the information.

It’s a bit difficult to believe that a free offering of this software isn’t exactly what Adobe intended, judging from the download page’s implementation. And the way it spread so quickly as such is a testament to that.

However, with the denial that this was meant as a promotional offering, critics are now calling for Adobe to officially release CS2 to the public. Some even make the case that giving away outdated software is something all software brands should do.

Why Adobe should take advantage of the publicity now

It’s not too late for Adobe to turn this unintended publicity into a promotional opportunity, but that opportunity is fleeting. Here are some of the mainstream arguments for such a move:

  1. The cat’s out of the bag. And Adobe seems fine just leaving it there. Anyone can go to the download page, copy/paste the serial number, and start running any CS2 software on their home computer (assuming their operating system is compatible). Because of that, all the economic harm it could do (to let people have a free copies of CS2) is going to happen anyway.
  2. A number of free creative software suites, like Gimp, have become popular over the years. There’s a chance Adobe could tap into that market and try to build brand loyalty by offering a better free product. Who knows, they could even convert some designers into paying customers over time.
  3. The publicity is great, but the chance to push the features of their newest version — CS6 — onto unrealized potential customers was (and continues to be) the real missed opportunity. Even requiring users to register and sign in to get the download (collecting contact info along the way) would be a start. Connecting directly to customers who have a real demand for the big boy version of creative software, but might not be able to afford it yet? That’s marketing gold.

Adobe Sign-in

Adobe should at least make users register & sign in first

Why Adobe doesn’t want to offer CS2 for free

While Adobe could probably take better advantage of this situation from a marketing/promotions standpoint, giving away CS2 may not be in Adobe’s best interest after all. Opportunity costs for this unwanted attention may exceed the potential benefits. Therefore, making it an official offer could only make matters worse.

  1. Officially, CS2 is an unsupported and outdated software library. Most programs will not run properly on new computers running Windows 7 or 8 (only in compatibility mode) as well as most recent versions of the Mac OS. Even if you do get some programs to run, it may result in instability problems and a bad user experience, potentially backfiring as a branding tool. (Imagine losing a large project because Adobe crashed in the middle of it)

    “Adobe has disabled the activation server for CS2 products, including Acrobat 7, because of a technical issue. These products were released more than seven years ago, do not run on many modern operating systems, and are no longer supported.

    Adobe strongly advises against running unsupported and outdated software. The serial numbers below should only be used by customers who legitimately purchased CS2 or Acrobat 7 and need to maintain their current use of these products.”

  2. Adobe already has its own free version of their most popular product: Photoshop Express. And even though it’s very watered down compared to CS2 or Gimp, perhaps casual Creative Suite software users aren’t their target market for Adobe’s fully featured suite. Adobe CS is meant for the most serious design professionals. Considering the price jump between Photoshop Express (free) and Adobe Photoshop ($700), it may be unlikely that someone interested in free CS2 is ever going to fork over the cash for the current suite. Nobody knows better than Adobe.
  3. Adobe is looking forward to their new business focus: a software subscription model & additional cloud storage services. Users will no longer need to worry about their software going out of date and purchasing more to upgrade just a few features. This new model even has its own free trial, which might not welcome the competition from within. Either way, the last thing Adobe wants to do is encourage use of the old software while they’re trying to sell the new and improved versions.

For those that continue to purchase the software package outright (that’s still an option), would you be more or less likely to pay the $700 if you knew that it would be given away for free just half a decade later?

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  1. david k waltz


    This reminds me of the adage “when life gives you lemons make lemonade”. Seems like Adobe needs a few more “squeezers” around! It’s a bummer that it does not work well on the newer software or I would have gotten a copy too!

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