In an election post mortem, Cambridge Analytica’s business development director Brittany Kaiser focused on the ability of CA to determine how much impact each ad placement was having. How many times the ads were read. How often they were shared. How far they penetrated. And there was one ad in particular she was especially proud of.
One of the most effective ads, according to Kaiser, was a piece of native advertising on the political news website Politico, which was also profiled in the presentation. The interactive graphic, which looked like a piece of journalism and purported to list “10 inconvenient truths about the Clinton Foundation”, appeared for several weeks to people from a list of key swing states when they visited the site. It was produced by the in-house Politico team that creates sponsored content.
Politico writes about politics. Politico also sells ads. There’s nothing wrong with that—the second activity helps fund the first, just as it does on Daily Kos. They also have the occasional editorial or piece written by someone with a deeply-held political position, including both candidates and those involved in campaigns. Again, this is both a common occurrence and a widely accepted practice.
But Politco is also one of those outlets where the staff engages in writing ads, including lengthy pieces written and packaged to look like journalism. And that’s an issue. Because it makes a big overlap in the Venn diagram of information that was advertised on Politico, and information that was written by Politico. It makes it very difficult to object if this material is held up as something “Poltico says …”
In a Washington Post article, both Politico and the Post defend the ad, in part because the format of the ad block doesn’t look like the usual Poltico article.
To any experienced reader of Politico, that look raises eyebrows. First off, Politico stories commonly have newsy headlines and distinctive digital folderol …
But the problem isn’t with “experienced readers of Politico” familiar with the folderol. It’s with tens of thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of people who were presented a link or material from this ad, who are not regular readers of Politico.
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