Spotify Brings Back Political Ads After Removing Them in 2020

Spotify stopped hosting political ads on its services in early 2020, citing a lack of “robustness” in its systems, ahead of what turned out to be the ugliest US election in recent history.

Two years later, as the midterm primaries kick off, the company is once again courting political advertisers, according to a company presentation and marketing email seen by Protocol.

Spotify confirmed to Protocol that it is slowly bringing back political ads for candidates, political parties, PACs and elected officials in the United States “Following our break from political ads in early 2020, we have spent the past two years to strengthen and improve our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content,” spokeswoman Erin Styles said in a statement.

In an email the company sent to potential partners this week, Spotify said political ads would appear “on thousands of podcasts on and off Spotify.” An accompanying presentation promises political advertisers the ability to target niche audiences and leverage AI-powered “contextual targeting,” which allows advertisers to place ads in podcasts when discussing relevant issues for their target audiences.

But the company approaches its re-entry into the often ugly world of political advertising with caution. Spotify will only host advertisements from known political entities and will not accept advertisements from a much wider set of issue-related groups. Ads will also only run on Spotify’s podcast network at this time, not its free music delivery network. Podcasts will also have the ability to opt out of political ads if they choose. Since 2020, the company has strengthened its advertiser verification system. Its political sales team is triple its previous size.

Spotify has not, however, developed a political ad archive similar to those offered by Meta and Google. After the Russian troll scandal in 2016, these two companies created ad archives that, while imperfect, have grown stronger with each passing year, giving audiences a window into the previously opaque world of online political ads. This week, Meta announced that it would add aggregate ad targeting data to its Political Ads Archive.

But the lack of legislation requiring social networks to create these records — and the lack of strong federal election disclosure requirements for digital ads — has created an unbalanced situation, where some companies require political advertisers to show their work and others, well, don’t. . Styles said Spotify may consider creating an archive of political ads in the future.

Bringing political ads back to Spotify is sure to raise some uncomfortable questions for a company that has already been at the center of so much political turmoil over Joe Rogan’s podcast. But Spotify isn’t the only company having to think about what to do with political ads in the run-up to the US midterm elections. Twitter also stopped allowing them at the end of 2019 after initially trying to create its own archive. Meanwhile, Netflix could roll out ads by the end of the year, forcing that company to make a similar choice. Disney+, for its part, has previously said it won’t offer political ads for the ad-supported version of its service.

Update, May 23: This story has been updated with the correct timing of Spotify’s takeover of political ads.

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