Campaigning

What’s The Big Deal With Cambridge Analytica and Facebook?

I still don’t truly understand why there are so many emotions of surprise and anger over the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook news.

Over the past six years, we’ve had many calls, emails and presentations that turn out to be another digital marketing company pitching the idea of individualized marketing. We’ve heard the pitch so often, we could contact companies ourselves to sell the idea. Individualized marketing is the ability to segment individuals based on likes, trends, places they visited, things they bought, and then cross referencing that information to a voter file in order to come up with behavioral models on a particular issue or candidate.

According to CNN, the Trump presidential campaign spent $5.9 million with Cambridge Analytica. In the 2016 presidential race, Democrats and Republicans spent a combined $2.4 billion.When you include all the congressional races, the amount spent in 2016 jumps to $6.5 billion. The $5.9 million is probably the same amount of money allocated for a gubernatorial race in California for campaign yard-signs, t-shirts, buttons and balloons in just Los Angeles.

For the better part of a decade, as political and public affairs consultants, we have utilized some version of micro-targeting programs through the use of “Big Data.” I can remember the use of these terms and applying these principles dating back to the re-election of George W. Bush and what was seen during the Obama campaigns. Using a version of behavioral models to target voters has been part of every campaign and, today, those who are not applying this method are committing malfeasance.

I am also shaking my head at all the social media posts saying, “They tested messages in 2014 for the 2016 election.” Welcome to reality. Political campaign staff never stops testing messages. This is a year-round process and it doesn’t stop. They are testing messages right now for 2018 and 2020, as well as for millennials who will enter the age bracket in about 5–8 years when voting in higher percentages will start to pick up.

This past election cycle, I was in 3 to 4 Cambridge Analytica and 3 Facebook presentations. Some clients engaged with the services and others used alternate versions of what each service was providing. Some won, some lost.

According to CNN, the Trump presidential campaign spent $5.9 million with Cambridge Analytica. In the 2016 presidential race, Democrats and Republicans spent a combined $2.4 billion.When you include all the congressional races, the amount spent in 2016 jumps to $6.5 billion. The $5.9 million is probably the same amount of money allocated for a gubernatorial race in California for campaign yard-signs, t-shirts, buttons and balloons in just Los Angeles.

While there will be more charges and investigations related to how the data of 50 million U.S. Facebook users was transferred to a researcher/consultant who was working with Cambridge Analytica, I am still not convinced that the $5.9 million spent with Cambridge Analytica helped shape the outcome of the election.

Over the past half decade, I haven’t seen much evidence to show that social media programs turn people out to vote in any significant numbers. These marketing/campaign tools can raise awareness, build a coalition and encourage people to share information, but in today’s world but getting a voter to cast a ballot requires a different type of motivation.