What Spotify, Neil Young and Joe Rogan mean for brands

Lou Paskalis, president of the Mobile Marketing Association, which for years has been a leader on “brand safety” issues, said the Rogan controversy had not erupted into a serious advertising problem for Spotify.

But if other “more current” artists follow Young, Paskalis said it could become more of a “cultural imperative.” “But right now it looks like an activist investor challenging the status quo in a big company,” he said.

Paskalis said Spotify’s decision to side with Rogan is an indication of where the company is headed. Podcasts are a major growth engine for the platform, with 381 million monthly users. In the third quarter, Spotify said ad revenue would hit $1.1 billion in 2021, citing “advertisers’ enthusiasm for the podcast industry.”

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Spotify’s ad revenue grew 75% year-over-year in the third quarter. As for Rogan, Spotify sells advertising space in his podcast directly to advertisers, meaning they must sign up to appear there.

Spotify also has brand safety controls that allow advertisers to choose the topics of podcasts they support. “Content controls are built on podcast episode transcript data so advertisers can easily target or anti-target specific topics,” Spotify’s policies state. The policies also state that there are “a subset of curated content controls related to sensitive topics that advertisers can exclude, to remove any topics that do not fit their business.”

Spotify’s Rogan predicament is similar to those other platforms have faced. In 2020, brands boycotted Facebook for a month to protest what critics saw as misinformation and hate speech. YouTube, owned by Google, is continually at the center of public debate over what kind of creators it allows to serve on the site. Twitch, Twitter, and TikTok have all faced questions about how they enforce their content moderation policies.

Read: Ranking of Facebook a year after the boycott of the brand

At the start of the pandemic, Spotify lured Rogan to the app with $100 million to stream his show exclusively. Rogan has been a lightning rod ever since, receiving backlash for the way he covers COVID-19 and other topics.

Rogan also attracted advertisers. Omnicom Media Group committed $20 million to the app in 2020, telling Ad Age “Rogan fueled a lot of the momentum” leading to the deal. A spokesperson for Omnicom was not immediately available for comment.

Spotify said it must balance free speech and public safety in its policies. Spotify bans dangerous COVID misinformation, but that might be a blurry line to draw.

“We want all the music and audio content in the world to be available to Spotify users,” Spotify said in its public response. “With this comes a great responsibility to balance both the safety of listeners and the freedom of creators. We have detailed content policies in place and have removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to see him again soon.

Ana Milicevic, director of Sparrow Advisers, a digital consultancy, said advertisers could simply avoid Rogan’s show if they strongly disagreed with his views, but a broader removal from the app was unlikely. . “I doubt anyone advertising on Rogan’s show is anywhere near top-notch brands,” Milicevic said.

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