Pandora and Bernie Buescher: Colorado's first and only streaming-radio political ads?

So you're happily listening to your custom-made MGMT station on Pandora Radio when suddenly a dude starts talking to you about elections and stuff and a photo of an earnest-looking guy pops into your track listing. What gives?

Welcome to the brave new world of political advertising. Secretary of State incumbent Bernie Buescher has launched Colorado's first political ad campaign on Pandora - and is reaping the rewards.

In a gamble, the Buescher campaign decided to use the campaign money it had set aside for Facebook ads to instead advertise on Pandora, the popular streaming-music website where users listen to custom-made radio stations based on songs or artists they like. According to Kevin Herman, Buescher's communication director, a Pandora sales rep reported the web company had never before worked with a Colorado political campaign.

"We've shied away from a lot of online efforts, because we figured there would be so much noise in that space," says Herman. "But we figured Pandora was something new and creative that people would have to pay attention to."

They were right. Pandora listeners have to listen to commercials -- there's no fast-forward button -- unless they're willing to shell out $36 a year for the ad-free version, which doesn't happen that often because everybody still expects everything on the Internet to be free. In other words, it could be just the thing to get young people interested in the sort of down-ballot race that often gets overlooked.

The other benefit of Pandora ads? They could be programmed to reach specific demographics. For the Buescher campaign, that meant eighteen- to sixty-year-olds and, according to Herman, folks "that would be sitting at their desk listening to music all day long." In other words, probably not a lot of farmers chillin' in Sterling.

Herman is reluctant to reveal actual dollars spent on the month-long Pandora campaign they launched in the beginning of October. But, he says, "While Pandora ads were a bit pricey, you are able to hit zip codes across the state for about the same money as you would have to spend to be effective in the Denver Post, and that doesn't include an audio component."

Plus Pandora has apparently produced more bang for their buck. Herman says Twitter monitoring and Google analytics have shown the Pandora ads have brought significantly more online traffic to the campaign than other online spots.

So does Buescher himself use Pandora to get his music fix? "Oh, he definitely does," says Herman. While he doesn't know which stations Buescher likes to listen to, Herman did recently share a personal favorite, his Van Morrison station, with the Secretary of State.

But that brings up another question: When Buescher listens to Pandora, does he end up listening to himself talk about himself?

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner