- Thomson Reuters
People are shocked that Facebook and Google apparently “embedded” staff in the Trump campaign. But big-spending advertisers get hands-on treatment from platforms all the time. The tech giants made this offering available to Hillary Clinton, and also brands like Clorox.
Did you hear that Facebook and Google helped swing the 2016 election by planting people in the Trump campaign?
It was on 60 Minutes the other night, when a stunned Lesley Stahl quizzed Trump digital ad guru Brad Parscale on how the tech giants planted staffers inside Trump HQ:
Brad Parscale: Well, we had our– their staff embedded inside our offices.
Lesley Stahl: What?
Brad Parscale: Yeah, Facebook employees would show up for work every day in our offices.
Lesley Stahl: Whoa, wait a minute. Facebook employees showed up at the Trump headquarters-
Whoa is right! Apparently, Stahl is not familiar with the concept of “advertising sales.” But she has exposed a dark ad industry secret. Marketers that spend a lot of money with a given media partner get special treatment.
For example, Clorox is a big Facebook ad spender. They spend so much in fact that sales executives from Facebook have badges* that get them into the marketer’s headquarters, reported Ad Age.
During the “60 Minutes” interview, Parscale said when he spoke to various tech partners, he said “I wanna know every, single secret button, click, technology you have.”
It’s probably a good bet that if there are secret buttons at Facebook, the Clorox embedded employees get access to them to help drive toilet wand sales during key periods. They may help whiten your bowl, but probably won’t threaten democracy.
Here’s the thing, this happens all the time. Big ad agencies sign mega-deals with Facebook, Google and others with the promise of first looks at new data products and insights. So do giant marketers like Mondelez, which makes Oreos and Ritz crackers. That typically results in lots of hand holding.
This is not that uncommon in business, especially the tech industry. It wouldn’t be great business to tell some of your top spending clients: “hey, we’ve just rolled out a slew of super complicated, algorithmically driven ad targeting products that allow you to plug into all of your databases. Best of luck trying to figure out how to use them!”
And in the case of politics, “60 Minutes” confirmed this same sort of treatment was offered to Hillary Clinton (hindsight’s 2020, but maybe she should have said yes?). And yes, Google and Facebook also offered white glove treatment to the Obama and Romney campaigns in 2012.
“We gave assistance to the Trump digital advertising efforts just like we do for other political, and non-political clients,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “Facebook offered the same kinds of advertising support to the Clinton campaign, and we worked with the campaigns sometimes on site and sometimes remotely. People on our teams work across a set of campaigns, not just one, and many work on projects that apply broadly to all political campaigns on Facebook.”
Added a Twitter spokesperson: “Twitter provides nonpartisan ad sales resources to advertisers around the world, helping them use our ad sales platform efficiently. In 2016 we offered such resources to both the Clinton and Trump campaigns, as well as gubernatorial and Senate races across both parties.”
Consider that besides Facebook and Google, the ad tech firm Rocket Fuel had an office in Washington D.C. during the 2016 election to help cater to political advertisers. Are they going to be on “Dateline” next? Guess what, media companies often ’embed’ salespeople in Detroit, and it’s not because they just really liked “8 Mile.” (Hint. There are car companies there).
To be clear, the tech giants have tremendous, extremely troubling problems with fake news and rogue Russian ad buyers who had the clear intention of sowing chaos in the 2016 election. There is no question that that is bad, and these companies need to do better and explain what happened to Congress. They also have enormous power over what people read, hear and see online – including relating to politics.
But Facebook, Google and Twitter helping a paying customer (the Trump campaign) better use their platforms is not nefarious. The platforms were surely hoping the more success Trump had on Facebook, the more his campaign would spend. Facebook may or may not have had Republican employees working on this effort, but the only real party at the social network is Green (and not the Ralph Nader one).
In this case, the use of the term “embeds” feels a bit loaded here- and more designed to shock grandma that provide a nuanced account of how digital advertising works. This isn’t an episode of “The Americans.” It’s more like “Very Mad Men.” This post has been corrected to say that Facebook executives have badges for Clorox headquarters, according to Ad Age, not the other way around.