The Audacity of Spotify’s Ad Campaign

The advertising campaign rolled out by Spotify in 2018 is bold.

For those that may not be part of the popular crowd, Spotify is the go-to music streaming subscription service. Launched in 2008, the company offers both a free streaming service (with ads) or a premium account (without the ads). It’s the best $9.99 that I spend all month.

Spotify is not without controversy. Music artists have been sounding a rally cry for years, arguing the site does not offer them acceptable compensation for their music. These artists have a valid point. At the end of the business day, artists on Spotify make less then a $1 per song that has been streamed. Taylor Swift, famous pop music icon, dramatically withheld her entire music catalog from the site (and others) in an effort to bring this debate on to the main stage. Ultimately, in 2016, the artist released all of her music onto the site.

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Fast forward to 2018. Spotify has unveiled their audacious ad campaign. My 8th grade students would describe it as “savage.” Because that is exactly what it is. The campaign features a variety of huge billboard-size posters that both insult and flatter the customers that are streaming music on their site. Using images like Ed Sheeran, and taking bold political stances, Spotify effectively taps into their target audience.

Who is their audience? Based on the political boldness of some of their advertisement copy, I can tell you who isn’t their target audience: the conservative Right. This ad campaign promotes the ideals and values of the liberal Left – from taking jabs at Pence and his anti-gay stance, to mocking former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. It is a bold statement for a company to make. It is also an effective one for a company whose target audience is teenagers and college students.

Spotify’s new ad campaign is a great combination of pathos and logos – those terms that may sound vaguely familiar if you ever took a high school or college writing class. The ads create a powerful connection with the target audience, both through an appeal to humor and an appeal to the human desire to be “cool”. Spotify’s ad campaign makes so many references to current music that a person feels cool because they manage to identify them all. Something that I bet your grandmother can’t do. But the music streaming company does more than just appeal to their consumer’s emotions, they also present data in an entertaining and effective way. It is strangely fascinating to learn that “3,445 people [streamed] the ‘Boozy Brunch’ playlist on a Wednesday.” The marketing team at Spotify does a great job using statistical data in a way that appeals to humor and to their audience demographic.

The 2018 ad campaign at Spotify is also an intense study in the power of kairos – that idea that powerful rhetoric must pay attention to the right place and time to present an argument. Spotify takes full advantage of the political climate in America. The boldest billboard savagely takes a swing at Vice President Mike Pence. The ad references a playlist called “Daddy Pence, Come Dance.” To add to the political dig at our country’s VP, the billboard visually showcases a gay pride flag waving in the background – a direct call-out to Pence’s stance against the rights of gay people in America. It is a timely and powerful message.

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People have taken notice. AdWeek calls the campaign “one of the most delightful deployments of user data in advertising today” and focuses their analysis on how much Spotify has improved on the ad campaign they used in 2017 (that followed the same user-data model). Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman told Creativity Online that the campaign is meant to invoke “a spirit of hope and optimism.” By providing consumers with a light-hearted advertising campaign, Spotify successfully takes some of the seriousness out of the current pop culture climate. They have provided us, using their billboards, with a good laugh.

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