Spotify made its traditional media debut this week with a TV commercial aired during an episode of NBC’s The Voice. The online streaming music service was founded in Sweden in 2006, and made its way stateside in 2011. Spotify’s popularity has only grown since then—a million of Spotify’s 6 million global paid subscribers live in the U.S., with millions more users opting for the free, ad-supported version. It’s a service that’s revolutionized the music business, and Spotify’s partnership with Facebook has made it a vital element of the social networking experience for millions of Facebook users.

SpotifyThe Ad

It makes sense for a digital service to attempt to make inroads with traditional media: In addition to getting in front of a captive television audience, Spotify’s commercials could introduce itself to users of Pandora, and Google Music, and ask them to join a new and growing online music community. And with TV becoming a social media event for many viewers, Spotify’s choice to air its spot during The Voice stakes its claim to cross-media music marketing opportunities most recently mined by shows like ABC’s musical drama Nashville and Fox’s American Idol and Glee.

So, it’s surprising—and a little alarming—that Spotify’s first TV commercial is so horrible.

The minute-long ad opens with a silhouette of a young man crowdsurfing on a sea of upstretched hands. The scene plays out in slow motion, focusing on the man, the hands propelling him along in a seemingly endless crowd, the drops of water or sweat caught in a misty, strobing spotlight. It’s a powerful opening image, but the image doesn’t match its soundtrack—a shapeless, atonal hum that barely comes close to resembling music. Then, viewers hear this voice-over:

“It’s been said that the best songs don’t give answers, but instead ask questions. So, why? Why can a song change the world?”

A big question, illustrated with more crowdsurfing, more hands, more flashing lights. And then, an answer:

“Because music is a force—for good, for change, for whatever. It’s bigger than us. It lives inside us. Because we were all conceived to a 4/4 beat.”


Missed Opportunity

How does this commercial connect Spotify with the songs performed on The Voice? When will the call to action be offered? And—the most maddening question—just who exactly is the target audience for this commercial? None of these questions are answered, and viewers get more than halfway through the commercial without even knowing what it’s selling. Where brands have used shows like Glee and American Idol to hawk their wares through product placement, Spotify’s commercial does nothing whatsoever to connect itself to the TV show during which it aired. For a music service airing a commercial during a musical reality show, this is especially sad.

Spotify’s premium service allows users to listen to new releases, access favorite tracks offline and on mobile devices, and subscribe to friends’ playlists. A recent update gives users the chance to follow their favorite musicians as well, and to use a variety of apps to discover new music and artists. In the commericial’s 63 seconds, viewers are not told any of those things. Instead, we get this as a closer:

“Because music can’t be stopped, can’t be contained. It’s never finished. Because music makes us scream “koo-koo-ka-choo” and mean it. Because music is worth fighting for. Why? Because it’s music.”

The Spotify logo appears at the end of the commercial with the tagline, “For music.” The logo is familiar to users of the service, but for viewers learning about Spotify for the first time, the only reference they may remember is a scene of a sweaty guy crowdsurfing in slo-mo, set to what sounds like a lazy imitation of Radiohead.

And koo-koo-ka-choo.