I was among the first reporters to cover the use of data and digital media by political campaigns since as far back as 2002. In 2009 I exposed how voter information was collected by the Republican and Democratic Parties and merged with databases run by AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft to create targeted digital advertising campaigns. Later, as a reporter focused on the data industry and political campaigns at Advertising Age, I covered Cambridge Analytica’s role in the U.S. 2016 presidential race throughout the election cycle.
Here are the stories I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in chronological order:
February 1, 2016
Yet the Cruz campaign and the PACs backing it, as well as the beleaguered Ben Carson campaign and John Bolton’s PAC, have each invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a novel form of voter data analysis and targeting that promises to apply intricate — some might say nuanced — political messages like so much filigree.
Some remain skeptical, but other insiders say the data crunching and voter segmentation provided by London-based Cambridge Analytica goes beyond what’s been done before, even by President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. The Iowa caucuses will be the first time in which the three-year-old firm — which has moved aggressively into the U.S. political market — and its data promise are put to the test in a U.S. presidential election.
February 3, 2016
The data company working closely with the Ted Cruz campaign is optimizing its data models nightly as the Texas Senator’s staff transitions from Monday’s Iowa caucuses to the New Hampshire primary just days away.
It’s no wonder they’re working into the night: The Cruz camp has paid the firm over $3 million so far.
March 8, 2016
But merely knowing a company calls itself a “data” or “analytics” firm or the campaign has listed expenditures as data-related does not provide a clear spending picture. Ted Cruz’s focus on data through a relationship with U.S. political data newcomer Cambridge Analytica is a good example. Data analytics are an integral part of many media buys today, from direct mail and digital ads to — increasingly — television. Much of the hype around the $3.8 million Mr. Cruz’s campaign has spent with the firm fails to recognize that it’s not all for data-crunching; a portion of that has gone towards media placements.
May 5, 2016
Since its launch in 2015, the Cruz campaign spent $5.5 million with Cambridge Analytica, some of which may have been used for media buys rather than data and analytics services, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The Texas Senator’s decision to bow out of the race after several primary losses — coupled with the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, who has captivated primary voters with simple mass-marketed brand messaging through earned media rather than spending on precisely-targeted digital and TV media — will have many pundits wondering what it all means for the use of data in politics.
June 9, 2016
Whether New Hampshire voters hear that GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte is a “proven” leader or a “bold” one will depend on what the psychological data profiles say. Today former U.N. ambassador John Bolton’s Super PAC launches video ads featuring a variety of messages aimed at select groups of voters in New Hampshire and Nevada, where national security — a pet issue for the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations — could be front and center in Senate races.
The ads backing Ms. Ayotte and Joe Heck, a physician and congressman from Nevada, employ data models developed by Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. firm that just recently dove into the U.S. political market and worked with Ted Cruz’s primary campaign.
August 18, 2016
As the firm sinks its sharp sales chops into New York, it leaves behind a mixed reputation in Washington, D.C. where several Republican strategists who have worked with or met with Cambridge in the past year see the company as a curiosity, an intellectually-advanced interloper that never really “got” American politics. Sources say the company bit off more than it could chew and failed to deliver some of the technology and analytics services it sold or meet crushing election-season deadlines.
Even so, it has been widely-reported that Cambridge Analytica now is working with Mr. Cruz’s primary nemesis, Donald Trump, whose GOP presidential campaign has been woefully devoid of a serious data team. GOP insiders interviewed for this story affirm recent reports that Cambridge now has staff embedded with Donald Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Analytica won’t comment on it.
August 24, 2016
It’s official: the Donald Trump campaign is working with former Cruz camp data firm Cambridge Analytica. However, the campaign has spent a relatively meager amount with the British analytics firm compared to the money Cambridge Analytica garnered from the Ted Cruz campaign.
The campaign and its new data partner have kept mum about their relationship, though rumors have swirled for weeks about Cambridge Analytica staff being embedded with the Trump camp’s San Antonio-based digital firm Giles Parscale.
September 8, 2016
Following months of no TV advertising, the Trump campaign has not only begun paying for TV exposure, it appears to be using data and analytics while doing it. Information obtained by Ad Age from National Cable Communications indicates a turning point in Donald Trump’s TV buying strategy.
Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based firm which made a name for itself through its work with Ted Cruz’s primary campaign, recently inked a deal with Comscore-owned TV data firm Rentrak, enhancing its ability to help clients make more efficient TV buys.
September 26, 2016
Working closely with the Republican National Committee, the campaign and its digital team at San Antonio-based web shop Giles-Parscale flooded Facebook with a outsized array of ad variations aimed at different targeted audiences, resulting over one day in August in more than 100,000 varieties.
“This number should shock people, should cause disbelief,” said Gary Coby, director of advertising at the RNC. On an average day the campaign uses a similar approach resulting in around 35,000 to 45,000 Facebook ad iterations.
October 4, 2016
Not that the Trump campaign would have very much to talk about. Despite promises from the Republican National Committee in 2013 to establish “a new culture driven by data, technology, analytics, and personal contact,” and a reported investment of $100 million since 2012 toward that goal, there is an apparent lack of interest in analytics within the Trump campaign. The campaign does have a data director, Witold Chrabaszcz, who formerly worked for the RNC, but it has invested a relatively meager amount — under $500,000, according to Federal Election Committee reports — with data firms including L2 and Cambridge Analytica.
Worse, the Trump camp is a black box to most entrenched Republican data practitioners and entrepreneurs, some of whom say they wouldn’t work with the campaign even if asked.
November 9, 2016
The Trump campaign used data and analytics to capitalize on clues from early voting returns, including data on Latino voters in Florida, whom an undisclosed Hispanic agency helped the campaign reach.
That’s according to Matt Oczkowski, who headed up the Trump campaign’s team of embeds from U.K.-based data firm Cambridge Analytica. Mr. Oczkowski believes that polls failed to predict victory for the president-elect in key battlegrounds partly because many surveyed only people deemed to be likely voters because they had voted in previous elections, excluding non-voters being drawn to the polls by Mr. Trump.
December 14, 2016
A fourth data firm, Cambridge Analytica had been brought in by the Trump camp in August and mainly handled digital persuasion advertising and targeting. The significance of the company’s involvement in overall data strategy has become a point of contention, but it’s clear that Cambridge Analytica, a slick London-based outfit that by then had rubbed a number of people in the beltway the wrong way, was not welcomed into the inner circle of RNC leadership. According to insiders, the British data firm was championed by Mr. Bannon, the executive chairman of anti-establishment website Breitbart who joined Mr. Trump’s campaign as CEO and is now a strategist for the future Trump administration.