Pandora’s political ads give “Rock the Vote” new meaning


Pandora’s political ads give “Rock the Vote” new meaning

What do Pandora’s political ads really mean? Is it a technology breakthrough or just another publicity stunt?

Pandora recently made political news by announcing it had come up with a way to serve up gubernatorial ads to subscribers according to political preference. How does Pandora determine the leanings of it’s listeners? They’ve written a software algorithm that correlates musical taste with publicly available voter registration data. There are a few reasons I think Pandora can’t pin me down with this kind of approach.

First, Pandora starts with zip codes, then cross references it with voter tendencies in those zip codes. To me it seems like this data is what’s valuable, not whatever correlations are made between those users and their listening preferences. That information is interesting, but ancillary.

Second, our country might be divided along party lines but each side represents a more diverse cross-section of people than ever before. This includes a broader appreciation for art various art forms including music, the production and distribution of which has increased exponentially since it was computerized.

Finally, Pandora’s director of product management, Jack Krawczyk, told the Wall Street Journal that, “The company matches election results with subscribers’ musical preferences by ZIP Code. Then, it labels individual users based on their musical tastes and whether those artists are more frequently listened to in Democratic or Republican areas.” That’s great, but geo-targeting for political preference is nothing Pandora shouldn’t have been able to do all along. An unnamed company spokesperson piped up for the same WSJ piece, saying, “Pandora users who listen to country music more often live in Republican areas, while fans of jazz, reggae and electronic music are more commonly found in counties favoring Democrats.” Wow. There’s a shocker! I wonder what sophisticated algorithm was used to figure that one out.

The revelations continue, “R&B listeners lean slightly to Democrats and Gospel and New Age listeners lean slightly to Republicans, Pandora said. Classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Hip Hop artists are harder to classify; they count fans in both parties.” The only  interesting thing about Pandora’s political advertising is the potential to unveil some some odd things. Outliers. The counterintuitive trends that throw us all for a loop. Yet I’m not sure Pandora’s singing the right tune on this one. It comes down to the fact that, cultural behaviors and values are hard to predict. Some might assume, for example, that consumers of urban hip-hop music would represent a primarily urban, African American population. If you made such an assumption, you’d be wrong. The data gleaned from Pandora’s political adventure will be more valuable than whatever they had before, but without federation and digital body language all they’e doing is guessing. And it might be interesting to uncover the real stats behind facts like the white suburbanite’s love of Snoop Dog. But but at what cost? I’d be concerned about overall brand loyalty once users start thinking their information is being sold or traded.

Sources: Wall Street Journal Huffington Post Fox News

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