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 U.S. election in recent history.
Two years later, as the midterm primaries get going, the company is courting political advertisers once again, according to a company presentation and marketing email viewed by Protocol.
Spotify confirmed to Protocol that it is slowly bringing back political ads for candidates, political parties, PACs and elected officials in the U.S. “Following our pause of political ads in early 2020, we have spent the past two years strengthening and enhancing our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content,” spokesperson Erin Styles said in a statement.
In an email the company sent out to potential partners this week, Spotify said that political ads will appear “across thousands of podcasts on and off Spotify.” An accompanying presentation promises political advertisers the ability to target niche audiences and tap into AI-driven “contextual targeting,” which allows advertisers to place ads in podcasts when they are discussing issues relevant to their target audiences.
But the company is approaching its reentry to the often-ugly world of political advertising with caution. Spotify will only host ads from known political entities, and it won’t accept ads from the much broader bucket of issue-related groups. The ads will also only run on Spotify’s podcast network for now, not its free music-streaming network. Podcasts will also have the option of turning off political ads if they want to. 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 the ones Meta and Google offer. After the Russian troll scandal in 2016, both of those companies set up ad archives that, while imperfect, have grown more robust by the year, giving the public 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 ad archive.
But the absence of legislation forcing social networks to create these archives — and the absence of firm federal election disclosure requirements for digital ads — has created an imbalanced situation, where some companies require political advertisers to show their work and others, well, don’t. Styles said Spotify may consider creating a political ad archive in the future.
Bringing political ads back to Spotify is bound to raise 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 that needs to be mulling what to do about political ads as the U.S. midterms near. Twitter similarly stopped allowing them in late 2019 after initially attempting to build an archive of its own. Meanwhile, Netflix may offer ads by the end of the year, forcing that company to make a similar choice. Disney+, for one, has already said it won’t offer political ads for the ad-supported version of its service.
Update, May 23: This story was updated with the correct timing of Spotify’s resumption of political ads.