How Spotify Makes Its Data-Driven Outdoor Ads, and Why They Work So Well

CMO Seth Farbman takes us inside the campaign

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It’s usually British TV spots that are wowing people at this time of year. But for our money, the most entertaining holiday ads of 2017 so far have been Spotify’s global out-of-home ads, which crunch user data and cleverly transform it into witty headlines—riffing on the ups and downs of our suddenly unhinged world.

We posted a bunch of the ads on Wednesday. With the theme “2018 Goals,” they serve as comical New Year’s resolutions come early—using Spotify listeners’ habits from 2017 to humorously suggest strategies for dealing with life in 2018.

The campaign follows similar ads last holiday season. The ads work so well because music is such an emotional experience, and data about our listening habits, on the macro level, taps into our collective mood, said Spotify CMO Seth Farbman.

We spoke to Farbman on Thursday, who told us more about how the campaign is made, why so many of this year’s ads are politically themed, and how to keep advertising about current events lighthearted in a world gone berserk.

AdFreak: The hook this year is that you’re looking forward to next year. What was the thinking behind that?
Last year it was so clear. It was why we used the line “It’s been weird” last year. We couldn’t figure out how else to describe it. It was such an unusual year. So much happened, and at such a rapid pace. As a culture and society, we were just taking it on. We were almost fascinated, in a sense, at everything that had been happening to us.

This year, by looking at our own data and the external data, observing the world, there was just this level of fatigue. There was a level of real distraction in our lives, from over a year of constantly changing news—things we thought were usual and normal that were changing. Some of it comes from D.C. and London and elsewhere. Some of it comes from the natural disasters that really impacted people’s lives. It was like, you just couldn’t get a break. So we thought, “What do we do about this?”

We decided, “Let’s look forward instead of back, and let’s inject optimism and humor where we can.” Not to make light of things, but to lighten them up a bit. It was as simple as that. The creative team here at Spotify came up with the idea of goals. How do we think forward? To take some of that nutty stuff and say, “I’m going to push against this, or be better at this.” A lot of people look back at this time of year. We just thought it would be interesting to look forward.

That’s a tricky balance—not ignoring the state of the world, but trying to be optimistic or positive when you address it.
It’s absolutely tricky. We rely on two things. One is a tone of voice that is sort of inclusive and reflective and a little cheeky. And we also rely on the information and the data that we see from from our fans. All of the work we present, they’re not statements we’re making. It’s just looking at how people consumed music over the course of the year and using that fact-based approach, which somehow makes it feel a bit less traumatic.

It’s something we’ve experienced together. The highs and lows are not individualized. We’ve gone through those as a society. In the U.S. it’s created quite a bit of conversation. Some of that conversation is very localized, and some of it is is much more global in nature. But music has always had the role of bringing people together, of being a common language, of transcending everything from who you are to where you live to your points of view—on everything from culture to politics to music itself. But we can all agree that it is a deep and meaningful part of our individual lives and our collective experience. That’s really what we want to reinforce.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.