The tiny British Columbia-based marketing company are credited by some as being the reason for the success of the Brexit campaign. Having received more than £4 million for their work on the campaign, they were responsible for around half the spending of the campaign groups on the Leave side, and yet very little is known about them. Run a quick Google search and very few stories come up, perhaps a little odd for a firm credited with causing one of the most seismic referendum results in British history.
Data released by the Electoral Commission showed that the Vote Leave campaign had spent £3.9million, more than half of its official £7million campaign budget, on services provided by AggregateIQ (AIQ), whilst other affiliated Leave campaigns spent a further £757,750. In total, the Vote Leave campaign spent 40% of its funds, £6.8 million, on the Canadian company. So who are they? And how did they manage to remain so anonymous?
Who Are AIQ?
Their website states that,
“AggregateIQ delivers proven technologies and data-driven strategies that help you make timely decisions, reach new audiences and ultimately achieve your goals.”
They claim to be specialists in fields such as,
- Audience Persuasion
- Message Testing
- Public Opinion Polling
- Online Engagement & Intervention
- Audience Analysis
Aside from that, their website gives little indication as to who they are, or how they achieve their goals.
Run by Zach Massingham a former university administrator, AIQ is a low-profile consultancy that, among other things, specialises in developing highly-targeted Facebook advertising. AIQ was set up in 2013 by Zack Massingham, the company has 20 staff and works out of Victoria, British Columbia. Massingham explained their philosophy to The Huffington Post,
“You always want to try and reduce everything down to the simplest form of the argument and then repeat those simple lines again and again and again and that becomes your brand… Knowing when to spend what money, and where, and what the impact is going to be, is actually very important,”
Of the outlandish marketing bill that Vote Leave wracked up, Massingham commented that,
“They really understood the importance of digital marketing and a strong technology infrastructure. They wanted to know what their supporters cared about and how the campaign could best reach out to those supporters to help them understand the benefits of voting to leave the EU… Though we are listed as one of the largest expenditures, the reality is the vast majority of that money was for online advertising to those groups of people the campaign wanted to reach.”
Cambridge Analytica Links
In March of this year, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, removed a listing for SCL Canada from its site. The phone number was that of Zack Massingham, the director of AggregateIQ. When questioned about it, a spokesman for SCL said it was an outdated listing of a former contractor who had done no work for Vote Leave.
The Observer revealed that billionaire hedge-fund owner and one of the funders of the Trump Presidential campaign, Robert Mercer, was a key figure in Brexit. Andy Wigmore of Leave.EU commented that Mercer is a personal friend of Nigel Farage and that it was he who connected Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica. He said: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us.”
Vote Leave and AIQ
Some fantastic reporting done by Buzzfeed revealed that Vote Leave donated £725,000 to two related Brexit campaign groups in the final weeks of the EU referendum campaign, just as the Leave campaign was approaching their spending limit of £7 million. The groups then immediately spent the money on online advertising campaigns run by Vote Leave’s own IT supplier, Aggregate IQ. BuzzFeed News found that Veterans for Britain and Darren Grimes, then a 23-year-old fashion student, received substantial donations from Vote Leave in the final weeks of the campaign.
According to Open Democracy,
“Co-ordination between campaign groups is illegal under UK electoral law unless their expenditure is counted together – a law designed to ensure that no one can get around campaign spending limits by setting up front groups.”
When The Observer asked Veterans for Britain where they heard about Aggregate IQ. David Banks Veterans for Britain head of communications said: “I didn’t find AggegrateIQ. They found us. They rang us up and pitched us.”
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