Despite Its Mystique, Cambridge Analytica Didn’t Offer Advertisers Anything Special

Cambridge Analytica was notorious long before its controversial use of Facebook data became news. But even before it defected from Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign to Donald Trump’s in 2016, the company was angling for marketing dollars.

In September of that year, it had about 25 Fortune 500 businesses in its funnel, AdExchanger was told at the time by then-CRO Duke Perrucci, who is now at software optimization firm Gurobi.

Cambridge Analytica seemed for a time like a kingmaker, but could it offer the same to brands?

“Their pitch to us and the technology seemed to me like pretty straightforward DMP work,” said a marketer at one Fortune 500 fashion brand who evaluated Cambridge Analytica.

One agency found Cambridge Analytica was effective for campaigns with specific parameters and targets. The agency used Cambridge Analytica for a campaign heavy on earned media after it claimed it could drive new cycles and engagement.

“It worked, but we chose them because we knew we were targeting a Trump-like audience and they’d have models for that,” said the agency exec, who hasn’t worked with Cambridge Analytica since.

Cambridge Analytica was fairly effective, according to an executive from a news publisher that piloted a subscription campaign with the company, but the program was dropped because it was more expensive than similar optimization tech companies on the market.

Where Cambridge Analytica found success and longer-term work was in Washington, DC, where it positioned itself as an outside commercial option for Republican candidates losing the narrative on data and technology.

Besides need, the Republicans also presented opportunity. They had fewer vendors compared to the Democratic ecosystem, according to a former Cambridge Analytica executive and a digital media executive who worked closely with the company during the election.

“Republican candidates and committees had frankly been overpaying conservative vendors for a long time because really no competition was allowed,” said one political tech executive who worked closely with Cambridge during the campaign and refused to comment publicly due to a nondisclosure.

Cambridge Analytica’s technology may have been standard market fare, he said, but it was competing with overpriced platforms that had long attached big premiums to conservative media buys based on a vague sense that campaigns should have a more political-first media approach and, mostly, out of partisan loyalty.

“The truth is, Facebook or about any commercial DMP can do that better even if their employees want you to lose,” he said.

 

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