In creating the headline on this article, we pondered whether or not to say the “ad industry” instead of the influence industry, but then we thought, Was it only advertising that influenced the outcomes of Brexit and the disruptive 2016 U.S. Presidential election? No, these two political events were really shaped by, as whistleblower Christopher Wylie told The Guardian, “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”
The Russians and Cambridge Analytica have opened our eyes to the power of mass manipulation and psychological influence using the tools of big data, social media, information warfare tactics, and manufactured news. (Whoa! Just to articulate this is head spinning), but this is our reality today, as we are learning more and more about Cambridge Analytica, the massive Facebook information breach, and how Russia deftly used disinformation to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.
As diabolical as all of this is, there is a sobering reality that the game of commercial influence has changed forever. The old-school methods of influence like broadcast advertising, print advertising, and other traditional forms of the marketing mix are being relegated to “dull knife” status. You cannot deny the monumental impact of the use of information and data on the aforementioned outcomes.
It is a new day, and, as marketers and consumers, we are faced with the harsh reality that this is how it is going to be and that we must brace ourselves for this new era of mass manipulation.
So, what have we learned from the Russians and Cambridge Analytica?
Information can easily be weaponized
The tactics of information warfare: psy-ops, disinformation, and the mining of big data was set upon an unknowing public and was effectively used for outcomes to benefit the people funding this information “war.”
Personal consumer data is gold
The essential ingredient to this new mass influence was intimate and sophisticated analysis of personal data. This highly personal data can be used to unearth deep-seated beliefs and biases that can be manipulated with targeted outreach. Without the data, there is really no effective influence.
The use of psychology has been scaled for influence
Deep psychological measurement was deployed on a scaled level via those infamous Facebook personality tests. Measurement from those test were matched against personal profiles of people and their personal propensities. This measurement empowered highly effective manipulation.
If you say it often enough on social media, people will believe it
Maybe there will come a time where people will sour on social media and stop using it all together but as it stands now, this is where a large number of humans dwell. Social media turned out to be the primary “front” for this influence — and a cynical belief that if you say something repetitively (even if it is not true), it will become true in the minds of the people reading it — was put into practice with extraordinary results.
As Cambridge Analytica is sure to be dismantled, there will be other information mining and mass manipulation companies ready to take its place, and perhaps politics will not be their sole focus but rather, the rich territory of consumer marketing and sales.
The revelation of the tactics used in Brexit, and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election will change the marketing and the business of influence forever.