From February 22, 2014 – SF Gate: Pandora Tailors Political Ads Based on Music Taste – By Benny Evangelista
If you’re on the “Blue Train” with John Coltrane hoping Avicii will “Wake Me Up!” in your apartment in San Francisco, you’re probably a Democrat.
At least according to Pandora Media, which last week began serving up political ads tailored to the varied musical tastes of its 73.4 million active monthly users.
The Internet radio service has found that analyzing a combination of music genres and geographic voting patterns provides a “signal” that can indicate whether a listener sits on the left, right, or center of the political spectrum, said Jack Krawczyk, director of product management.
“Music is part of what is most unique about who we are as Pandora, and it also happens to be one of the strongest signals,” Krawczyk said.
According to the Oakland company, fans of jazz, electronic and reggae music tend to lean left, while fans of country and gospel music lean to the right.
Music cannot always predict politics, however, since lovers of rock, pop and hip-hop span all party affiliations.
But, Krawczyk said, “What we really tried to do is get an inference around how strongly different listening behaviors can help us predict a variety of things. And the element we’re launching is around the political spectrum.”
Ben Coffey Clark, a partner at political advertising firm Bully Pulpit Interactive of Washington, said campaigns looking to get the most out of their donations are increasingly demanding such services.
Pandora, for example, could tap into celebrity endorsements of candidates or ballot measures, he said. A listener could hear a political ad recorded by a musical group immediately following one of their songs, Coffey Clark said.
“If we can get and use advanced targeting options, we can make sure the right people see the right message at the right time,” he said. “What makes sense is to leverage as much data as you can and tie it back to see how you are changing voter’s minds and their intentions to vote.”
Since it started in 2000, Pandora has built a giant database cataloging 450 points of data about every song ever recorded. The company uses the Music Genome Project to recommend songs to listeners based on artists and songs they already favor.
Now Pandora, trying to boost its ad revenue, has turned that same kind of data crunching to predict whether a listener will favor ads for or against hot-button political topics.
Pandora cross referenced publicly available voting trends and census data with the ZIP codes of its members in every county in the United States. Pandora then matched that data with its own music listening patterns within each ZIP code.
The result was a predictive computer model that shows patterns of behavior of music fans in red states and blue states.
“Californians tend to listen to a lot more jazz than in other parts of the country, but Texans happen to listen to a lot more country than jazz,” Krawczyk said.
So a Dallas resident who listens to a lot of country, but no jazz or reggae, is a “strong signal of people who lean more toward the Republican side,” he said.
Another slight Republican indicator is New Age music “like Yanni,” he said.
Pandora is among several tech companies trying to mine user activity to predict preferences. Netflix, for example, has long used predictive modeling to suggest new movies or TV shows.
And last week, Facebook rolled out four new criteria for advertisers to better target customers based on location, demographics, interests and behavior.
Andrew Sheehy, chief analyst with Generator Research of the United Kingdom, has criticized Pandora for relying on advertising sales to generate profits. But in this case, he said, selling ads based on musical tastes is a positive move.
“This is a very good user of customer behavioral data and is exactly the right sort of thing for Pandora to be doing,” Sheehy said in an e-mail.