If — as a Woodstock generation baby boomer in good standing — I choose to listen to Bob Dylan, The Band, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Derek and the Dominos, Cream, the Zombies and Pink Floyd, can advertisers predict where I plan to go on my next trip and how I’ll spend my time there?
Or, we could narrow it down even further — I’m listening to Bob Dylan on a Monday morning on my iPad in my office, and I just turned thumbs down on Guns N’ Roses and gave Neil Young a thumbs up. Am I more likely to want to go whale watching in Alaska, stay at an all-inclusive Caribbean beach resort, or take a bus tour to Atlantic City? If an ad for whale watching in Alaska comes up, then they’ve got me pegged.
If that sounds a bit far-fetched, Pandora, the Internet radio service that reaches more than 70 million active listeners, is betting the opposite. Pandora believes it can figure me out and target the most relevant advertising just for me — all based on my musical tastes, augmented by my other Pandora listening habits, including day of the week, time of day, location and device.
A recent New York Times piece laid it all out, quoting Eric Bieschke, Pandora’s chief scientist: “It’s becoming quite apparent to us,” Bieschke told the Times, “that the world of playing the perfect music to people and the world of playing perfect advertising to them are strikingly similar.”
Pandora has built its huge loyal listening base by predicting what music you’ll want to hear and then choosing it for you, based on choices you’ve already made. If you give Dylan the thumbs up, for example, then The Band and Tom Petty are likely to follow at some point. If you give Guns N’ Roses the thumbs down, it’s less likely to play Led Zeppelin for you.
In any event, it has a world of data to rely on for targeting ads just to me (and you, if you’ve signed up — it’s free unless you opt for the no-ads version.).
Besides all my musical preferences mentioned above, Pandora knows my age, gender and zip code, all of which I had to provide when I signed up. So a male in his sixties who lives in upstate New York and listens to ’60s rock music rather than country probably isn’t likely to want to spend his next vacation in Branson, Missouri (just to take a purely hypothetical example).
According to the Times, Bieschke offers the example of “someone who’s in an adventurous musical mood on a weekend afternoon…one hypothesis is that this listener may be more likely to click on an ad for, say, adventure travel in Costa Rica than a person in an office on a Monday morning listening to familiar tunes.”
The latter person, Bieschke surmises, may be open to an ad for a more staid tour of Paris. “We take all of these signals and look at correlations that lead us to come up with magical insights about somebody,” he notes.
It could get easier than that — if I choose the “Reggae” genre instead of “Classic Rock,” then I could be a pretty good candidate for a travel ad for Jamaica. If I pick “Family,” then Disney World. If I pick “Christian/Gospel,” then Branson might indeed be for me. More specifically, if I opt for a Ted Nugent track over Joni Mitchell, they might want to pitch me a stay at a hunting lodge in Wyoming rather than a week’s yoga retreat in Big Sur.
While this blog is mainly concerned with the travel ad possibilities, Pandora can also target ads for products as diverse as trucks, casinos or political candidates — do you give thumbs up to Moby or Toby (Keith)? — all based on your musical choices, zip codes and other factors. If you live in California and pick Moby, then you’re more likely to encounter a Prius ad; those who pick Toby might enjoy a new Ford pick-up.
Of course, this is all an inexact science, based in part on generalities and stereotypes, but Pandora can test it by counting the number of clicks an ad gets when people are listening to a particular type of music. So while it might seem like magic, it’s actually just clever targeted advertising — which beats running ads on most commercial radio stations, where a large portion of your audience may not care at all about Wyoming or Big Sur.
So far today I’m getting mostly ads for eBay, so it seems they’re still trying to figure me out, but I’ll keep you apprised when those Alaska travel ads start popping up — unless their algorithms are off and they try to lure me to Branson.
Answer to Last Week’s Travel Quiz:
Which of these travel sites was NOT one of the top 20 pins on Pinterest in 2013?
A. Taormina in Sicily
B. Bagan Temples in Myanmar
C. Blue Lagoon in Iceland
D. The rock city of Petra in Jordan
The answer is D, Petra, probably the best known of the four sites.