Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica (CA) plans to publish a book on his firm’s approach to online campaigning, and it’s role in the US election. In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch he says the book will “talk about our methodology and our approach to communications” in technical terms, and go into how the firm is using psychographics in its campaigns online.
The book, with the working title “Mad Men To Maths Men,” (in reference to the hit TV drama) will be coming out in Germany first, and later internationally.
In an extensive interview with TechCrunch, published here, Nix goes into depth about his company’s position on data, the US election, its ties with the Trump campaign and addresses its alleged ties with Russia.
He says that “old school” traditional creative-led agencies “have got it coming” and that they will be swept away by a data-led approach, replaced by “highly targeted, very personalized advertising, and that has to be data-driven. That’s not instead of creativity, that’s using data to augment creativity. Data first then creativity, it’s linear,” he says.
He says that ahead of the US election CA had “hundreds of thousands” of Americans fill out a survey and merged that with as many publicly available data points on 230 million Americans. And that “everyday we have teams looking for new data sets.”
He admits CA used psychographic targeting of Americans “all through the 2014 midterms” and all through the Cruz and Carson primaries. “But when we got to Trump’s campaign… we just didn’t have the time to roll out that survey.” He says the Trump campaign, when CA joined it, was just too small and had no infrastructure.
However, he did admit that “there’s psychographic data that’s baked-in to legacy models that we built before because we’re not reinventing the wheel.” And there was no “long form quantitive psychographics survey” done for the Trump campaign.
Nix does not address claims that the company harvested Facebook data before its terms of service started to be shrunk, but that their data was built on surveys of 100,000 people or more.
He also repeats the claim that they helped raise a “small dollar” funding for Trump amounting to $27m. Of this, he says “I think it was extremely pivotal [to the campaingn] because when Trump won the nomination he had very, very little money.”
He says CA was hired by Trump’s campaign because no other usual suppliers to Republican candidates would touch the controversial candidate, and that CA saw a big business opportunity in his campaign. The thinking was that even if Trump had lost, they would have made a name for themselves in the US, and if they helped win the campaign they’d be famous. It was a risk worth taking.
It also meant that CA ended up taking over every aspect of the Trump campaign from data analytics, research, digital, TV and handling donations. “Overnight [the contract] went from being originally just data, to end to end,” says Nix.
“It was an easy bet to make. It was a win-win. I couldn’t see the downside. I thought even if Trump didn’t prevail, if he didn’t win the election… We’re a British firm that was trying to break into the most competitive political market in the world.”
He says criticisms of them and their methods have tended to come from jealous competitors.
“You see three quotes… they’re all from people whose business you’ve stolen. They’re saying things like we came across “Cambridge Analytica. It’s All snake oil” [and it’s from] our biggest rival.”
He dismissed characterization of CA’s campaigns as being ‘dark advertising’: “I’m very proud of that we’re doing which are innovative. And there are some things which is ‘best practice’ digital advertising, best practice communications which we’re taking from the commercial world and are bringing into politics.”
He says attacks on CA are mostly by “the liberal press” supporting Hilary Clinton: “Hilary simply cannot come to terms with it. She’s a woman in denial. The liberal press [characterized Cambridge Analytica] as witchcraft, “they cheat, it is voodoo!” and now it’s Russia’s fault! They just cannot accept the fact that Hillary was such an unpopular, such a divisive candidate. She failed to mobilize her base and people didn’t fundamentally trust her. Rather than looking in the mirror, they much prefer to beat up Cambridge [Analytica] beat up Trump, beat up anyone else. Anything but accept the fact that their candidate wasn’t what the people wanted to vote for.”
Nix plans to publish a book on Cambridge Analytica’s approach to online campaigning, and its role in the US election.
He says the book will “talk about our methodology and our approach to communications.” It will also talk in “quite technical terms” about how communication is changing, what how technology is impacting that. It will feature case studies “with a lot of real examples of artwork and targeting and psychographics and so forth to illustrate them.”
The book will be coming out in Germany first, with a German publisher, after which it will be published in the U.K. and internationally. The working title is “Mad men to maths men”.
On Brexit, he categorically denies CA had any involvement. CA “did not work on Brexit,” he says. Claims in the media to the contrary were wrong and based on the ‘liberal media’s’ denial that the UK wanted to leave the EU. He says the rumour has come about because they were approached by “by a number of different campaigns, pro and against, to discuss whether there might be a role for us on Brexit… We had a number of discussions. Obviously, these discussions made their way into the public forum but we meet with hundreds of companies every year and talk about business opportunities. That doesn’t mean you engage with them doesn’t mean you contract with them and it certainly doesn’t mean that you work for them.”
He says stories by The Guardian that CA worked on pro-Brexit campaigns were based on “one or two data points” that they “then created an entire narrative around that that was pure fiction.”
He says CA has worked on political campaigns in African countries but does not comment on “live campaigns.”
He says the firm “worked in Kenya in 2013 on the last election for Kenyatta, but would not comment if CA has worked for Kenyatta in this year’s controversial election.
However, he does say that “I think that the court’s decision [to re-run the election] was a dreadful decision. I think that it is going to result in dreadful bloodshed, horrific violence. If Kenyatta for any reason doesn’t win this election then his supporters are going to feel robbed. And if Odinga’s people don’t, they’re going to feel that he’s cheated again because that’s the perception that Odinga is put out into the public domain. I can’t see this ending well. I think just for the sake of Kenya, for peace in the region, I think it’s a dreadful decision.”
He says “we’ve never been asked directly” if they had worked on a campaign for the Russian government or via third-party actors connected to them, such as for the Trump campaign or any other.
He says: “No one of authority has levelled any direct criticisms to us and, certainly, no one has suggested that we’d been or alleged that we’d been involved as far as I’m aware. We’re not under investigation by anyone. We are helping wherever we can with the understandings of the campaign, like everyone else in the campaign, but there’s no investigation into Cambridge.”
“We never worked in Russia. We never worked for Russia. I want to be careful, but I don’t think we have any Russian employees in our company whatsoever. We just don’t have business in Russia. We have no involvement with Russia, never have done.”
He declines to talk about reports that CA is bankrolled by shadowy hedge-fund owner Robert Mercer, who has been accused of pulling the strings on many aspects of the campaigns against Hilary Clinton and against other Trump opponents.
“I’m not going to speak about any of our investors or board members at all because we don’t.” He denies that the company’s “political ideology [is] influenced by other people in the company’ at whatever level. “We leave our personal ideologies at the door… We only work for mainstream political parties.”
He says CA works on campaigns for both left and right wing parties internationally.
He accuses the tech community of being overly Left-leaning, which, he says, effectively became a business opportunity for firms servicing the Right wing of politics. “Because of the dearth of talent, the Republicans were getting murdered in the tech arms race. That was the commercial opportunity, that was the one we sought to address… Had it been the other way around it might have been a different story.”
Deflecting a question about whether they worked for the Pentagon he says “we’ve worked for global militaries all over the world.”
He predicted that IoT is going to “totally radicalize” the data market: “As the internet of things grows, as we have sensors on everything: cars, fridges, TVs then data is going to become ubiquitous.” He also thinks “people are going to start taking control of their data much more. There is going to be more reciprocity in the way that people share their data with companies like my own and other marketing agencies.”
And that much of it will be “self-regulated through the Blockchain… Millennials… understand what’s going on,” he says.