As your mind wearily contemplates being exposed to yet another political campaign, are your dreams haunted by battle buses, billboards and TV debates? Or is it Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google?
On the evidence of last year’s EU referendum, much of the campaigning, and much of the money spent on political advertising, will be online. And it will happen in a way that will be largely hidden from scrutiny by either the public or regulators.
During the referendum, Vote Leave spent £2.7m with one small Canadian digital marketing firm that specialises in political campaigns – Aggregate IQ. The sum was well over a third of Vote Leave’s total budget.
Two other campaign groups – both of which received large donations from the Leave campaign - gave Aggregate IQ a further £765,000, taking the total pumped through the company to almost £3.5m. Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings is quoted on the company’s website saying “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Yet the invoices for the money they paid to Aggregate IQ, which were handed to the Electoral Commission, list vague jargon-filled specifications with little indication of how the ads were delivered. It may tell us Aggregate IQ were running a “targeted video app installed and display media campaign” but gives no clue about where those ads appeared or who saw them. Did most of the money go on Facebook or YouTube? Did they spend more money on reaching under 45s in Hull or pensioners in Canterbury? There’s no way of knowing, not least because the Electoral Commission doesn’t ask for the information.