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ASA rules against scary movie ad that aired during lullaby playlist on Spotify

By | Published on Wednesday 11 March 2020


The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against the Warner movie company over an ad for the film ‘It Chapter Two’ which played on Spotify in the midst of a playlist of classical lullabies.

The ASA was responding to a complainant who said that the suitably scary audio trailer for the ‘It’ movie shouldn’t have played during a playlist that was likely to be heard by young children.

Warner Bros Entertainment conceded that the ad was “mildly scary”, but added that it “avoided violence, offensive language, gore and elements of the film which might have been considered overly scary”. Moreover, it said that when booking ad spots with Spotify it chose the parameters “age is 18-44” and “real time genre is not children” on the streaming service’s advertising platform. Which is basically the movie firm saying “this is all Spotify’s fault”.

For its part, Spotify said that it “believed the parameters used by Warner Bros to target the ad were appropriate and that they did not believe the [classical lullabies] playlist was designed primarily for children”.

On that latter point, the ad industry regulator did not agree. It stated: “The ad was heard by the complainant between songs on the Classical Lullabies playlist. Given the name of the playlist – which included the songs ‘Children’s Music No 1 – Lullaby’, ‘5 English Nursery Tunes’ and ‘For Children Vol 1’ – we considered that the playlist was designed primarily to be played to and therefore likely to be heard by young children”.

With that in mind the ASA upheld the complaint against Warner Bros, ruling that the movie studio breached its code of conduct because, despite the studio’s efforts to target the ad, it nevertheless “appeared around content that was likely to be heard by young children, who were likely to be distressed by it”.

Although the ruling was against Warner Bros, it raises interesting questions for Spotify which needs to be able to ensure its advertisers can adhere to ASA requirements. Issues like this are going to become all the more pressing as lawmakers in both London and Brussels put the spotlight on ‘platform responsibility’, with protecting children from unsuitable content being high up on that particular political agenda.

Though the question is – while it’s reasonable to expect Spotify to ensure unsuitable ads are not played around playlists specifically targeting children – does it need to also look out for general interest playlists which, by the nature of the music being playlisted, are likely to be played to children by their parents. And while the offending playlist in this case was a Spotify-curated one, would that requirement also apply to third party playlists too?

Spotify is already honing its product for younger ears with the kids version of its app that is now available as part of the firm’s premium family plan. But it may be it needs to look into providing some of that kid-friendly curation to subscribers and advertisers on its free service too.