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Pandora Knows How You'll Vote, and It's Not Keeping Your Secret Pandora Knows How You'll Vote, and It's Not Keeping Your Secret

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Tech

Pandora Knows How You'll Vote, and It's Not Keeping Your Secret

The online music service is telling campaigns what music you listen to, which they say gives away your party affiliation.

Like these guys? Chances are you're a Democrat, at least according to Pandora.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

photo of Alex Brown
February 19, 2014

Sick of campaign ads on the radio? Don't plan on turning to Pandora to get a break from this fall's election-commercial frenzy.

The music streaming service announced last week it is launching targeted advertising—allowing candidates to reach voters based on age, location, and music preference. According to Pandora, that information can tell with 75-80 percent accuracy how a person will vote.

"What we're trying to do is make it so that the targeting that's selected by these campaigns is ... reaching the right groups," said Pandora's Jack Krawczyk. The company's advertising system weights its results based on users' ZIP codes; an area that voted 60 percent for Obama will have that factored into its residents' voting probabilities.

 

Then Pandora looks at your music. Listen to a lot of country? You're probably a strong Republican voter. Prefer jazz? You likely vote Democrat. Classic rock or hip-hop? Well, you're a little harder to pin down—but that might be just what ad-makers are looking for.

Pandora is the latest content provider to try to cash in on political operatives' desire for precision messaging. DirecTV and Dish Network are offering "addressable advertising" for statewide campaigns, allowing candidates to tailor a message down to the neighborhood level.

But just because an algorithm thinks it knows how you'll vote, do you really want to get bombarded with campaign ads for your (probable) candidate of choice? Do you lay off the hip-hop so the computer doesn't identify you as a coveted swing voter?

It's not that Pandora hasn't played host to campaign ads before. But the voter targeting makes it more likely campaigns will look to it as a worthwhile advertising investment. The more a campaign knows about you, the harder it's willing to work to pursue your vote—more knowledge gives operatives a better idea of where they're investing their money.

So while it might be frustrating to have your demographics put you in a campaign's crosshairs, it's quite lucrative for Pandora. "The more you reduce the risk that you're not hitting the right audience, the higher the willingness to pay," Krawczyk said.

Another possibility—at least according to one campaign operative who has worked with Pandora—is rolling out ad campaigns when artists endorse politicians. For example, in the unlikely event Katy Perry endorsed Mitch McConnell, you might want to steer clear of her music unless you wanted to be bombarded with his campaign ads. You might also find it difficult to listen to Clay Aiken without hearing ads for, well, Clay Aiken.

No matter how annoying targeted ads get for you, they're a smarter buy for campaigns and money in the pockets of content providers. So expect to see more, not less, of them in 2014 and beyond.

Still, Krawczyk pledged to take user feedback into account as Pandora rolls out its campaign offerings. "We're always monitoring the effect of our our ad load," he said. "If we saw that there's anything that's driving away listening behavior, then we would certainly act accordingly."

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