Like the apex salesman he is, Brad Parscale is pitching me his new company—which is really his old company, but more on that in a moment. He’s explaining how he intends to use artificial intelligence to supercharge advertising. All kinds of advertising. Parscale, who became a well-known national figure as the digital director for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, says he’s done with the bright glare of presidential politics, but even here, discussing the nuts and bolts of his business, he can’t help himself—there’s a deep political undercurrent.
“I think there’s a lot of patriot companies who want an agency that’s a non-woke, Christian-based agency that wants to help grow their businesses,” he says. “I think AiAdvertising could be a leading company, delivering that service.”
A decade ago, Parscale was laboring in obscurity at a San Antonio firm that created websites and logos for businesses including local plumbers and gun shops. After the 2016 election, the national media swooned over his use of Facebook ads to target voters, helping motivate them to either vote for his candidate or stay home and not support Hillary Clinton. Parscale—a bearded six-foot-eight figure who appears capable of entering a mixed martial arts cage and emerging victorious—welcomed much of the attention. But like many who attach themselves to Trump, his meteoric rise eventually fizzled. He was fired as Trump’s reelection campaign manager in 2020. Along the way, he sold his company to CloudCommerce Inc., which later changed its name to AiAdvertising.
Now he’s returned to Texas. AiAdvertising brought Parscale back last year, signing him to a consultant deal that pays $10,000 a month, plus another $120,000 a year in stock. Not long after, Parscale recruited a deep-pocketed new investor into the company: Tim Dunn, a Midland billionaire and right-wing Christian nationalist who runs one of the largest oil companies in Texas. Dunn has become arguably the most powerful financier of Texas Republican politics and is a major supporter of Ken Paxton, whose impeachment trial begins soon. Dunn funds and works with an extensive web of groups that, among other priorities, advocate for school vouchers and promote the expansion of fossil fuels.
So what does Dunn want from Parscale? For that matter, what does Parscale want from Dunn?
Parscale moved to Midland in January, buying a new home on a quarter-acre lot. The house is in a neighborhood on the north side of town, just around the corner from the Midland Bible Church, where Dunn preaches some Sundays, and near the gated compound where Dunn lives in a sprawling mansion across the street from homes owned by his adult sons.
According to Jerry Hug, the chief executive of AiAdvertising, the company wasn’t looking for a new investor until Parscale broached the idea. “Brad is one of the smartest marketing minds on the planet,” said Hug. “And he approached us wanting to help accelerate the growth of the company with what I would call very friendly, patient capital.”
In April, Dunn purchased a 40.6 percent stake in AiAdvertising for $5 million through a Dunn family investment vehicle called Hexagon Partners. Hexagon also has the right to invest another $4.25 million. Parscale consulted with Dunn on the deal, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Hug told me that AiAdvertising will use artificial intelligence to build targeted ad campaigns. “Personalization is the key to success in digital advertising going forward,” he said.
Essentially, this is an evolution of the work Parscale did for Trump. In a 2018 interview with 60 Minutes, Parscale explained how he could use digital tools to precisely target undecided voters. “I can find fifteen people in the Florida panhandle,” he said, a method that is far more cost-effective than television ads. The company plans to use AI to amplify that model, rapidly building “hyper-personalized campaigns” so that the messages voters see will increase in frequency and be even more specifically tailored to their interests, prejudices, and fears.
Hug says AiAdvertising will primarily sell its services to commercial enterprises. But he didn’t rule out using the tool to disseminate political messages. “It’s relevant for politics, certainly. And if we get political opportunities, we will take them,” he said.
Researchers have warned about the harmful impacts of highly personalized political ad campaigns, particularly given the lack of accountability and transparency about who exactly is funding the ads. The emergence of AI-powered ad platforms could drive down costs, making it possible for these tools to be deployed much more widely, even in a school district contest.
Whatever troubles this may portend for democracy, creating these tools is potentially big business. Thus far, AiAdvertising has not reaped many gains. In its last public filing, for the first three months of 2023, it reported an $883,000 loss. Its stock, which trades as an over-the-counter security, was selling for less than a penny on August 31. Its 52-week high was 2.8 cents. But Parscale said he’s convinced there is growing interest in companies that align themselves with Christian values. “I think the patriot economy is surging in America,” he said. “I think you’re seeing it happening this year, and you’re going to see it grow even more in 2024.”
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