Pandora can now target ads to users based on political preference

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Pandora Media will be rolling out a service that could peg your listening preferences to your political leanings.

The Oakland-based company is launching a new advertising service next week to provide candidates and political organizations the ability to target voters specifically based on politics among the 73 million active monthly Pandora listeners, writes Elizabeth Dwoskin in the Wall Street Journal.

The company will try to match election results broken down by ZIP Code with subscribers’ musical preferences. Then individual users are labeled by musical tastes using artists rankings by the amount of plays in either Democratic or Republican areas.

Users are not asked political affiliations when signing up for Pandora.

Pinpoint voter preferences are just the latest move by digital media companies to find new methods of tapping freely shared information to target advertising, something beyond the traditional method of tracking of Web-browsing.

Pandora, in direct competition with Internet radio services such as Spotify, is looking to political advertising as a way increase revenue.

“Targeting users is basically the currency in data right now,” Pandora’s director of product management Jack Krawczyk tells the Wall Street Journal. Companies like Pandora and Facebook, which include information on users’ names, can now follow media consumption and stated preferences across various devices — computers, tablets and smartphones. It gives Pandora an advantage over companies relying solely on Web browsing cookies.

Pandora allowed advertisers in November to target users listening to salsa and Spanish-language music who live in ZIP Codes with high Hispanic populations. Plans are to target other demographic groups in the near future.

“We can infer parenting,” Krawczyk said. “If you’re registered as a female in your thirties and have a children’s music station.”

Pandora’s free service does not allow users to opt out of targeted political ads, but they can opt out of cookie-based ads through Pandora’s website, by choosing the $3.99 monthly ad-free premium service.

Pandora’s data mining starts with the user-supplied ZIP Code at registration and continues after reviewing election results for zone, Krawczyk said.

For example, if 80 percent of voters in a particular county went for President Barack Obama in 2012, Pandora uses that information to predict that 80 percent of people in ZIP Codes for that county “lean Democratic.”

If that county voted for Obama twice, the algorithm tags those ZIP Codes as expected “strong Democrats.”

Pandora been allowing political advertisers to target users based on ZIP Code data since 2011. This added information about users’ musical tastes and other characteristics contribute to form extremely valuable profiles to marketers.

Do a user’s political leanings correlate strongly with music preferences? Pandora’s predictions are between 75 and 80 percent accurate, Dwoskin writes, but the real test will be ad performance. County election results are used to construct Pandora’s profiles since they are better predictors than local voting precinct results.

Other factors verge on the simplistic. Country music listeners often live in Republican areas, while listeners of jazz, reggae and electronic music tend to live in Democratic regions. R&B listeners lean slightly Democratic while Gospel and New Age listeners lean slightly Republican, according to Pandora.

Classic rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and Hip Hop artists are a bit tougher to categorize; they have fans in both parties.

However, there are enough distinct preferences to appeal to advertisers.

“There are very few places where people listen to a combination of country music and jazz,” Krawczyk said.

So far, Pandora has worked with two firms specializing in political-advertising, Precision Network and Bully Pulpit Interactive, which ran digital media campaigns for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Pandora will “help us tailor the right message to the right audience,” said Bully Pulpit President Andrew Bleeker.

Pandora plans to present data on income into targeted advertising, with a formula based on the average income of the user’s ZIP Code. Krawczyk said users in higher-income brackets have more diverse musical tastes than others.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.