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Using customer data for content marketing: Creative or creepy?

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At the end of 2017, published a series of articles on trends, predictions and new opportunities for 2018. One of these articles covered the future of advertising, with the prediction that ‘advertising will become more personalised’. Spotify is already ahead of the game, and for the second year running they have taken to using their customer data as a means of advertising, creating witty headlines from users’ listening habits to the theme ‘2018 goals’, which poses the question: when is such a tactic creative advertising with a personality, and when is it a creepy invasion of people’s private listening habits?

For keen Spotify fans, it will come as no surprise that the company collects a vast amount of data every time the streaming service is used, allowing them to recommend new artists and songs based on previous listening habits, guilty pleasures included. Whilst this feature is something I love about Spotify, it’s reassuring to know that these suggestions are only for me. If I had my personal listening habits plastered across London I might not be so grateful, but this is exactly what Spotify has done, calling out the ‘person who played “Sorry” 42 times on Valentine’s Day’ in one of their billboards from 2017, and asking ‘What did you do?’




We can’t forget that music is often an emotional reaction to your mood or what’s happening in your life. It’s the reason that streams of Christmas songs start to pick up from November. Therefore, imagine having a bad day, sticking Lil’ Wayne’s ‘Drop the World’ on repeat (to be fair, I was just obsessed with that song...) and then seeing that plastered on a billboard, with a quip about whether your mood has improved yet? Spotify’s CMO Seth Farbman believes that Spotify’s ‘job is to shine a light on those events that provoke people to strong emotion through music and to use humour to relieve some of the seriousness,’[1] but when applied to a single user it can come across as intrusive. It’s possible that Spotify took this on board when creating their 2018 campaign, as although they call out specific user’s playlists (permission from the users was sought before the billboards were created), I’ve yet to find a headline this year that targets a single user in a similar way.

It’s interesting, however, to see the same concept applied to aggregate listening data, particularly when connected to cultural and political references. In this context, I believe the campaign works extremely well and would agree that Spotify is doing exactly what Seth Farbman described.


To take things to an even more personal level this year, the Spotify team created a microsite aimed at helping users relive the music they discovered in 2017, with 2017wrapped. This included an interactive quiz covering users’ own listening habits, personalised playlists recommending music they may not have discovered, and a summary of top tracks, artists and genres – so, a clever way for users to engage with the streaming platform but keeping their private listening habits, well, private. Here’s My 2017 Wrapped. I really did enjoy that Lil’ Wayne song.

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When using customers data, it’s important companies remember that what one person might see as a creative marketing trick, others can see as a creepy invasion of privacy. Both Netflix and Uber have received backlash in the past for what has been seen as insensitive use of customer data. Personally, I think being open about how much access companies have to customer data can take away the stigma that they are using this information to ‘spy’ on us and using data for personalised marketing is one way to do this. When executed well, I believe this form of advertising is incredibly creative. The vast amount of information on user habits and preferences that companies have access to is what is helping companies like Spotify fuel recommendations and Netflix create hit shows. It drives a great user experience.


Lizzi Miller