Spotify's 'distressing' horror ad banned for targeting children online

Spotify's foray into horror through advertising has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being "unduly distressing" and irresponsibly targeting children online.

A sixty-second preroll, seen in June 2018, has been banned by the watchdog today following a complaint from a parent who said their children who found it distressing. 

The ad depicts a young man and woman in a house who are terrorised by a doll, in the style of Chucky, the murderous and possessed plaything from Child’s Play

The doll appears to be activated by a Spotify playlist and the ad contains several shots of the doll ambushing the characters whenever they play a song from the list.

In the final shot, the woman pleads the man not to press "play" and, as she reachers for his phone, the doll’s hand reaches out. The doll’s face is then revealed alongside the tagline, "Killer songs you can’t resist".

When contacted by the ASA, Spotify said they took care to ensure the ad did not cause undue distress and that it did not include any sciences that were violent or overly frightening.

The "Killer songs you can’t resist" tagline clearly showed the ad was a spoof, Spotify added.

In its ruling today, the ASA said the nature of the ad meant that it was not suitable to be seen by children.

"The fact the ad was set inside the home, including a bedtime setting, and featured a doll, meant it was particularly likely to cause distress to children who saw it. We did not consider that the context of the ad justified the distress," the ASA said.

Regarding audience targeting, Spotify said the ad was intended for adults aged 18 to 34 and that content exclusions had been put in place to ensure the ad was not shown alongside shocking or graphic content. 

Spotify also provided information from YouTube which showed 89% of viewers  were aged 18 or over on "DanTDM", the channel where the ad was seen.

The ad appeared prior to a video about Hello Neighbor, a video game that was marketed as a stealth and horror game. 

However, the ASA pointed out that Hello Neighbor was likely to appeal to children because it included colourful cartoonish images and was rated by the ESRB as suitable for players aged 10+. 

Meanwhile, DanTDM would have "particular appeal to children", the ASA added, because it uses cartoonish imagery, includes video games popular with children including Fortnite and Lego The Incredibles, and features videos presented enthusiastically by a youthful presenter.

The ASA said it told Spotify to ensure that its future ads did not cause distress to children without justifiable reason.

Earlier this year, the watchdog banned an ad for smartphone brand OnePlus, created by Lucky Generals, that parodied slasher films and features images of bloody corpses.


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