Emily Tan
Apr 23, 2013

Advertising on Spotify: Tips from Jonathan Forster

Now that the music streaming service has launched in Asia, we sat down with its global sales director and general manager of Europe, Jonathan Forster, who talked about how brands can work with the platform—and his own status as an internet meme.

Jonathan Forster at the launch of Spotify Hong Kong
Jonathan Forster at the launch of Spotify Hong Kong

Forster's online fame stems from early ads for Spotify. “When the service first launched we recorded some spots introducing users to our service and to fill potential ad space," said Forster, who is Spotify's employee number eight, having joined in 2007. "Mine all started with, ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan from Spotify’. Well these were eventually taken down except in Norway and Finland, where we forgot to.”

As a result, Forster’s spots played so many times that the Finns and Norwegians created spoofs, a fake Twitter feed, articles on how ‘Jonathan from Spotify ruined your playlist’ and an ‘I hate Jonathan from Spotify’ Facebook page. “My mum 'liked' the page,” Forster told Campaign Asia-Pacific ruefully last week when he was in Hong Kong for the music service’s launch. “When I visited the two countries, they were really excited to discover that I was a real person.”

Things have progressed quite a bit since those early days. The Spotify team has grown from eight to 700, and the service has 24 million users, of whom 6 million are premium subscribers, leaving an advertising audience of 18 million.

While Spotify still offers audio ads and display ads, along with homepage takeover ads and advertiser microsites, Forster’s favourite campaigns involve user and brand collaborations and, of course, music.

“There are so many examples of how brands can express themselves through music," he said. "One example is Citroën’s ‘Anti-Retro’ campaign in the UK.”

In 2010, the French automaker launched the DS3 with the concept of ‘Anti-Retro’—the idea that some classic designs are never dated and always current. To convey the rather esoteric idea, the brand worked with Spotify to craft the ultimate playlist of anti-retro songs. The campaign asked well-known UK music acts, including Sterophonics and Ash, to select 30 songs that they considered to fit in the genre. The lists were hosted on a Spotify microsite, and over the course of two weeks, Spotify users were invited to vote for their favourite tracks. At the end of the voting period, the artists playlists including the top 10 most voted-for songs were released at a rate of one per week, with each artist providing a commentary to accompany their list.

The uses of collaborative playlists are endless, said Forster. For example, the movie Snow White and the Huntsman created a playlist for each character, and Levi’s in Australia (case study video below) crowdsourced the entire concert from the opening act to the songs that the band, Primal Scream, would play.


Another crowdsourced playlist campaign by Volkswagen was aimed at promoting its performance range of cars with the idea that only the right song could make the driving experience any better. The campaign asked users to ‘confess’ to the music that they would listen to alone in the car but never in public. Users shared and created playlists, and the campaign spread via shared confessions on Facebook and eventually, TV, where the brand worked with MTV to create a top 10 driving track confessions show, letting users know they are not alone in their love for dodgy music.


Spotify also collaborates with brands and agencies to create apps that draw on the platform. “Brands need to provide stuff, content that people value and like, and we have it,” said Foster. “The trick is for brands to do something around music which is of real value to customers.”

Using 'hack days', Spotify invites brand or agency teams to spend the day crafting apps while being supplied with all the pizza and fizzy drinks they need. “One of the hack days, someone made something using the iPhone that tells your heartrate and references spotify to give you music that will either lower or raise your heartrate," Forster said. "It hasn’t been launched yet but you can immediately think of a few brands this would be relevant to.”

Rather than use the music out there, brands are also free to create their own and have it hosted on Spotify. Coca-Cola owns quite a few original tracks, and an album specially created for the Chanel flagship beauty store in Aoyama Tokyo by SYN Music can likewise be found on the platform.

“The best results though are still from tracks and playlists that are user-generated," Forster said. "It’s fair for consumers to think a band sounds like summer, but if a brand declares that all tracks by Moby sound like summer—they should go out and cut a deal.”

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