Hyping Data Analytics: What Color is Your Button?

I am an oracle, and will tell you your future. I’ll use a crystal ball, or some goat entrails, or data analytics. Same difference.

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes plucked from his richly deserved obscurity a former website designer with no prior political campaign experience, and celebrated him as the self-identified architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. He did it, he said, with Facebook. He cited no evidence whatsoever for for this claim of omnipotence for a social medium that Betty White once described as “a very great waste of time.” But a fawning Lesley Stahl bestowed the CBS seal of legitimacy when she murmured, early on in the interview,  “And Facebook IS how he [Trump] won.”

Really? CBS used to call itself “The Tiffany Network,” but it’s more like Wal Mart than Tiffany’s now. And its crown jewel, 60 Minutes, seems more like a child’s charm bracelet, green with corrosion. The entire segment on Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s  digital director, was as uncritical of its subject and his grandiose claims as a Fox News segment on the compassion of Donald Trump.

Parscale’s unsubstantiated claim in the interview was that, by micro-targeting ads to individual people on Facebook, based on collected data about their preferences (one example he gave was that some people prefer green buttons to click on, some blue) and by repeating the process hundreds of thousands of times a day thanks to the wonders of automation, he won the war. I mean the election.

This is all about data analytics — the finding of patterns that might predict behavior in the minutiae of individual preferences expressed in past behavior, such as the color of button one prefers to push. This “science,” also known as data mining, has come a long way from its origins — the finding of predictive patterns in the entrails of sacrificial goats. In the fields of politics and advertising today, it has all the magical buzz of “artificial intelligence” in the tech world, and “driverless cars” in the auto world — with about the same nonexistent record of success.

Now let’s do what 60 Minutes neglected to do (because we are the Tiffany of web sites). Let’s check in with Hillary’s campaign, specifically with her data analytics guy, campaign manager Robby Mook. So deeply did Mook believe in the religi0n — I’m sorry, the “science” — of data mining that he relied on a computer program he called Ada to predict, based on the data he fed her, what the American electorate would do and why. On that he based not only his Facebook buys, but his whole campaign.

When the American electorate began to tell the Hillary campaign, through polls and through screaming phone calls from the heartland, that they were not going to react as Ada had predicted, Mook ignored them and, especially during the final two weeks of the campaign, listened only to Ada. For this he is widely blamed for Hillary’s loss.

So Mook lost Hillary’s campaign by doing exactly the same thing — applying data analytics to micro-targeted ads — that Parscale did, who thereby won Trump’s campaign. Clear?

But wait there’s more. Hillary seems to believe that the Russians defeated her. How? By doing the same thing that Mook and Parscale did — applying data analytics to micro-targeted ads on social media. They spent, we now pretty much know, over $100,000 on Facebook and $10,000 on Twitter. To give just one example of their cunning, they targeted dog lovers, because as everybody knows, if you like dogs you like Trump. With cunning like that, can there be any doubt that the Russians will soon rule the world?

But wait a minute. The Russians  spent $110,000, and derailed a campaign that spent $84 million just on advertising? While the late lamented Jeb Bush spent $130 million in the primaries and was unable to secure the vote of anyone, including his mother?  (Don’t tell me it was because he didn’t use data analytics, because they cannot explain why your own mother won’t support you.)  

And wait one more minute. As I wrote here a few months ago (Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap), the world’s largest advertisers, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, who buy Facebook ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars worth every year, have concluded that the ads simply do not work. They deliver nothing.

That alone makes all the claims mentioned here — that Parscale won the election, that Mook lost it, that the Russians decided it — ridiculous on their face. Yet as Democrats and Republicans gear up for the midterm elections next year, everybody is out to hire their own data analytics guru to tell them what color their button should be.

Better you should slaughter a goat.


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21 Responses to Hyping Data Analytics: What Color is Your Button?

  1. John Cionner says:

    At least with the goat you can get a few meals. What ever the results of the entrails analysis.

  2. Ken Barrows says:

    Don’t 95% of the people vote the same party election after election? Are the other 5% the least informed? Are those same people vulnerable on Facebook? Nah.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      IMHO, no, no and yes. Yes, Republicans and Democrats usually vote their party line, but first they must decide whether to vote at all. Democrats who don’t much like their candidate don’t vote for Republicans, they just don’t vote, giving the advantage to Republicans who feel motivated. That’s why so many elections are decided by half or less of the qualified voters (like Trump, who won with something like 20% of registered voters). The least informed don’t decide anything, because they are the least likeley to vote — and the most likely to be swayed by fake news on Facebook.

  3. Tom says:

    Politics – biggest waste of taxpayer dollars since the military industrial consortium. No matter who wins, you get the same policies.

    Taken to its (il)logical conclusion, data analysis is going all Minority Report on us – predicting who among us is going to commit what crime BEFORE it happens, so that person can be added to the prison industrial complex’s burgeoning population, without having actually done anything wrong and sans trial.

    Streamlining the “law enforcement” system so it doesn’t bog down, like it has all along due to those messy, expensive, time-consuming public spectacles, is the reason behind the Hollywoodization of police work. Plus, it won’t implicate any sitting judges for selling kids with minor violations to the (now privately run) Big House for retirement money, as has happened over the years (and probably still does).

    Ah yes, data mining to target ads to the buffoon class, has made all the difference to the shuttered stores and abandoned malls. Despite the fact that the middle class has been economically gutted, it’s been such a surprise (to the idiots in charge) to see bastions of commerce (of crappy Chinese merch that nobody wants) buckling under and going bankrupt in this day and age. I mean, wtf, the stock market is at an all time high, things MUST be going well!

    Advertising to the rescue with this latest (phony) gambit – let’s ‘micro-market’ to unsuspecting consumers! Why, they’ll never know what hit them! They’ll be spending money (they don’t have) and America will once again shine as the best place to live, where everyone can have all the toys!

    What do you mean Toys R Us just went bankrupt? It must be an anomaly – poor management, uh . . they can’t find good help!

    Let’s make America groan again!

  4. Max4241 says:

    “And its crown jewel, 60 Minutes, seems more like a child’s charm bracelet, green with corrosion.”


  5. Max4241 says:

    Lambert Strether, over at Naked Capitalism:

    “Sorry to lose my patience, here, but: It’s fascinating to watch all the Clintonite exculpatory narratives gradually merging… On the bright side, since Russian outside agitators are now responsible for stoking American’s divisions over race, all we have to do is go to war with them, and problem solved!”

    No joke. It could be about war. If I was to place an over/under percentage on the Pentagon brass who believe a war with Russia is winnable (with only minor repercussions*), I would put it at 99.999% -while whispering to preferred clients, “take the over, definitely.’

    At the very least, we need Russia to spend a helluva lot more on Motherland defense. The spending disparity between the once great rivals IS getting embarrassing. Why the newly liberal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, just a minor American client state in the Grand Scheme, now outspends Russia on military hardware, all by itself!

    Bottom-line, the US Military Industrial Complex is getting very nervous, as it no longer has a worthy adversary to justify itself. So, it must create one soon, before someone notices!

    * Roughly 50 to 100 million American dead, with a relatively short and mild, nuclear winter.

  6. Max4241 says:

    Hillary Dems believe 110,000 judiciously placed dollars is what beat em in the post-Citizens United era. Too funny.

    Age of Insanity.

  7. Max4241 says:

    Sorry, off topic, but this hit me hard. I did not know. The Amazon rain forest is not a planet-friendly carbon sink, it is actually a massive carbon emitter.


    Also, I just learned that the water table of the Ogalala Aquifer is down the equivalent of one Lake Erie. What is the response from affected plains states? Last ditch cooperative conservation? Nope. It’s pump water like there’s no tomorrow cause you know your neighbor is doing the same thing! Of course.


    The lowly exponential function is morphing into something much more powerful. I believe we are now dealing with the ultimate Superhero of Exponentiation, tetration.

    In the Age of Insanity, doubling your trouble is not logical, not if you have the ability to quadruple it instead.

  8. SomeoneInAsia says:

    As James Howard Kunstler lamented in his blogs over at Clusterfuck Nation, our world has become, in his words, ‘reality-optional’. People, including supposedly highly educated people, believe (or disbelieve) all kinds of sh*t despite plain evidence to the contrary. I have nothing against people who want to worship stones, as long as they don’t throw them at me; but at present entire swathes of humanity are worshipping a giant stone with the dirty four-letter word ‘MORE’ engraved on it — a stone now poised to crash down on everyone’s heads.

    I sometimes like to imagine what the presumptuous rationalist Carl Sagan would think or do if a demonic entity invaded his home. Similarly it ought to be a pleasure to see the priesthood of ‘mainstream economics’ finally being brought face-to-face with the enormities they helped unleash upon our world with their godforsaken beliefs.

    Hell is truth seen too late. (John Locke)

    • Max4241 says:

      “…it ought to be a pleasure to see the priesthood of ‘mainstream economics’ finally being brought face-to-face with the enormities they helped unleash…”

      They’ll blame Socialism to the bitter end.

      “Norway, Costa Rica, Bhutan; you did us in! Next time, no shirkers, total invisible hand!”

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        I’d expect as much, actually.

        Seriously doubtful if there’d be any ‘next time’, though.

        • Max4241 says:

          Nope. The next stop for the economic priesthood is hell.

          “Hey, Beezlebub, you want to conquer the Afterworld? We have just the plan. It’s called the Shock Doctrine. We just used it to destroy every country on the planet, even the ones that didn’t adhere. Those leftist naivetes in heaven? We will crush them like grapes.”

  9. K-Dog says:

    Better we should have a revolution.