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Spotify made a Halloween-themed ad too spooky for kids

By Annabelle Timsit in London

Halloween is a time for frights. But for kids, there is such a thing as too scary—which is why a British advertising watchdog ruled that a Halloween-themed Spotify advertisement was too spooky to be shown to children.

The ad features a self-animated doll who, seemingly because of his obsession with Camila Cabello’s song “Havana,” stalks a group of teenagers in their homes. In 60 seconds, Spotify created a short-form horror film, which ends with a final shot featuring the doll’s face alongside the tagline: “Killer songs you can’t resist.”

On Oct. 17, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the British advertising watchdog, ruled that the Spotify ad breached the Committee of Advertising Practice Code rules on social responsibility and harm and offense. The ASA ruled that “although violence was not explicitly shown in the ad, it was implied,” and that this made the ad “not suitable to be seen by children because it was likely to be distressing to them.”

The ASA said that the ad was suitable for adults, but not for children 17 and below. While Spotify explained that only 11% of viewers were aged between 13 and 17, the ASA ruled that the ad had been inappropriately targeted to that age group because it was presented on YouTube and DanTDM (a gaming platform) channels that “would have particular appeal to children.”

In an emailed statement to Quartz, a Spotify spokesperson said:

“We acknowledge the ruling from the ASA and regret any distress the ad may have caused the complainant. It was created as a tongue-in-cheek horror parody–intended to be a humorous ad that demonstrated just how catchy some tracks can be. We take our responsibilities as a marketer very seriously and continue to be mindful of the ASA’s guidance on the effective and appropriate targeting of advertising campaigns.”

This is not the first time Spotify runs into trouble with Britain’s advertising code. In 2013, the ACA upheld a complaint about a promotional e-mail the company sent out, featuring the words: “Have you heard this song by Lily Allen? Give it a try. Fuck You”—a reference to Allen’s song with the same bawdy language. The ASA ruled that Spotify had to remove the email from British promotional lists.