Universal Entices Audiences to “Get On Up” by Reversing Pandora’s Music Genome Project


Getting the funky fans of James Brown to see a movie about James Brown? Not a problem. Getting a younger, wider audience to appreciate the breadth and depth of the Godfather of Soul’s impact on music and inspire them to get on up to see the film as well? That’s a bit more of a challenge!

So when Universal Pictures wanted to widen the funnel for the Aug 1st release of Get On Up — a chronology of James Brown’s rise from poverty — they partnered with experts in music discovery and education here at Pandora. Here some extraordinary teams met this challenge with a three-stage strategy: (1) identify fans of the music of James Brown and fans of the artists influenced by him then; (2) invite them to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of Brown’s impact on music so that; (3) they would be inspired to get on up to see the film!

To get a full picture of the influence of James Brown on modern music, Pandora’s research, musicology, and curator teams dug deep into Pandora’s Music Genome Project: First, Pandora Sales Research Manager Erik Brinsmead explains, “We selected legacy artists such as The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Maceo Parker, and Ray Charles by ranking artists most frequently played on James Brown’s stations.” Then Pandora’s team of music curators began exploring the songs of modern artists in the genres of R&B, Rock & Roll and Hip-Hop whose musical traits and attributes connect to the late great James Brown. Through this exercise, Pandora was able identify more than 300 songs and 250 popular artists who were directly or indirectly influenced by James Brown, including modern artists such as 2PAC, Beastie Boys, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. By targeting fans of those artists, Pandora was able to more than TRIPLE the reach of the campaign beyond consumers that may self-identify as James Brown fans and appeal to a younger wider audience that might not engage in another context.

In order to engage these fans, Pandora’s teams hyper-targeted the listeners with innovative ad banners that dynamically surface insights from the genome in a way that is directly and immediately relevant to the listener. Listen to Bruno Mars and you’ll discover that the R&B connection between him and James Brown. Listen to the Black Eyed Peas and discover Brown’s influence on Hip-Hop. The banners then invite listeners to learn more by clicking through and adding the Get On Up mixtape.

Once inside the special edition Get On Up mixtape , the listener enjoys hearing a spectrum of some of the best music of today and yesterday across Funk, Soul, Rock, Hip-Hop and R&B. Over 300 songs keep the listener engaged. Ron Nenni, Pandora’s Director of Music Programming orchestrated the eclectic compilation of music into a single Get On Up mixtape. He explains,

“What made this curation project exciting and challenging was the opportunity to think out of the box and utilize a combination of science and gut to create a compelling listening experience. Identifying artists and specific songs across genres that drew from the classic James Brown sound was the most fun for me. Finding that perfect Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers or Amy Winehouse song to appeal to a broad audience and researching the dozens of hip hop and R&B tracks that sampled JB riffs, horn charts and beats made this a truly unique and gratifying programming experience!”

Another challenge posed by the campaign was how to best convey the relationship between the current song playing and James Brown. This task was wrangled by Pandora’s Design Team, headed by VP of Creative Services Tony Calzaretta. Tony says, “Developing a user experience and creative execution that aligned the artists in the mixtape to the genomic traits of James Brown and communicating this to users in a simple fashion… was not an easy task [and it required] using some of the newest enhancements in mobile creative technology.” The result was an animated overlay custom-developed for Get On Up that visualizes the influences of James Brown through a taxonomy map and dynamically reacts to the songs playing on the custom mixtape in real listening time. Mike Chuthakieo, VP Entertainment Sales, commented “this may be the coolest user experience we’ve ever created at Pandora during my tenure here!” Pandora listeners seem to agree: only a week after launch, the number of Pandora listeners adding the Get On Up station has exceeded the normal branded station benchmarks threefold!

Universal Pictures’ Get On Up has exclusive sponsorship of this first-to-market, one-of-a-kind project and owns prominent placements within the experience that inspire listeners both young and old and fans of all music genres to discover more about the Godfather of the music. Experience Pandora’s Get On Up station now and see it in theaters August 1st!