In 2016, news about a British data marketing firm called Cambridge Analytica started to surface in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The firm was accused of covertly harvesting Facebook users’ data and crafting special advertisements that would appeal to those users during political campaigns. The news cycle, at the time, started to decrease as the politician that was linked to the news and the firm, Ted Cruz, has failed to win the Republican Party’s nomination for the US presidential election in 2016. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica name made a strong comeback to the news after Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica’s director of research, -as he describes his role in the firm, and the scandal’s whistle-blower accused his firm of manipulating millions of voters in the UK during the Brexit referendum and the U.S. during the presidential elections in 2016. This manipulation, according to Wylie, was done by creating targeted ads that helped the Vote Leave and the Trump 2016 campaigns to maliciously,gain political victory by deceiving voters in these two countries. This act of deceiving was done by the ads containing, according to Wylie, fake news. While this might seem as a since-fictional claim, this claim goes in line with the claim Cambridge Analytica made about itself, as a company that is able to alter audience behavior. This study is an attempt to analyze and provide an account of the persuasion techniques that these ads contained. By underscoring these techniques, readers would be better able to identify such sophisticated ads and/or news. This is a comparative study that relied on existing research and literature in different disciplines and linked the components that were known about these types of ads, political communication, populism and online disinformation. The combination these elements have provided a clear guide to explore this understudied area. Moreover, this study was conducted by using qualitative research methods through the triangulation of multi-modal rhetorical and thematic analysis to investigate 50 Facebook ads/posters, and 20 television ads used by the Vote Leave Campaign in the UK and the Trump 2016 Presidential Campaign in the U.S., and compared the results of the persuasion techniques of both campaigns. The results suggest that both campaigns used highly similar persuasion techniques and strategies in crafting their ads, however, this similarity was also highly contextual.

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Goncalves, J.
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Abdelfattah Ismaiel Abdelfattah Ali, Abdelfattah. (2021, July 12). “Take Back Control. Make America Great Again.” How the Vote Leave and the Trump 2016 campaigns persuaded voters.. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from