Spotify’s relationship with podcast star Joe Rogan has sparked a new debate about brand safety—and brand activism—in the ad world, after artist Neil Young pulled his music from the app, and some listeners protested what they claimed was COVID-19 misinformation on the platform.
On Friday, the Rogan controversy was still simmering, and trends like “#CancelSpotify” were appearing on Twitter. Rogan has taken heat during the COVID-19 pandemic because of his contrarian opinions on vaccines and public health policies. Young, in a public letter, claimed Rogan spread “fake information about vaccines.” Spotify stuck with the famous podcaster, and granted Young’s request to remove his songs.
The Rogan dilemma re-raises questions about how much control platforms should apply to content creators on their sites, and how much control advertisers have over supporting content that conflicts with their “purpose-driven” marketing messages, according to Lana McGilvray, CEO of Purpose Worldwide, a marketing strategy consulting firm.
“The Spotify, Joe Rogan situation puts purpose-driven brands to the test,” McGilvray said. For Spotify, as a brand, it’s the company’s “prerogative” to make the decision it made to stick with Rogan over Young, McGilvray said.
For years, especially since the pandemic exacerbated social division in the U.S., advertisers have been more outspoken about corporate responsibility. Spotify’s advertisers would have a tough decision to make about supporting the platform, McGilvray said. So far, there have been some tweets about listeners canceling Spotify, and some calls asking brands to join the protest, but most advertisers are not jumping into the fight. Apple, a Spotify rival, did tweet a message calling itself “the home of Neil Young.”
SiriusXM also called attention to its own collection of Neil Young music.