Last week, Boris Johnson was able to suck all the attention of the national and international press with a surprising story. He confessed in an interview that his favourite way to relax is by carving out busses out of old wine crates. He even loves to paint "happy passengers" on them.
An attentive reader could smell the stinking hand of Steve Bannon and his team behind this - at first sight trivial - story. Because what happened in the days after this story went viral, was digital magic. Stories about Boris and his toy-busses started to push away another Boris-bus-story from the search results. The far more explosive story about the flagrant lie that he had put up a campaign bus that the EU costs the NHS 350 million pounds each week. Coincidence? Of course not. It's a public secret that Steve Bannon is helping Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage with the same techniques he applied to help Donald Trump to get elected. Bannon perfectly understands that you can beat the odds to win elections if you know how to game the algorithms of media.
The simple law of market share growth
If you read the book "How Brands Grow", you will know that growth in market share, beautifully correlates with mental and physical availability.
The more people hear and see you, the more likely they will buy you. Furthermore, the best way to be seen and heard is to be distinctive. The more you look objectively different from the other competitors, the easier it is to be remembered. In political marketing terms, this means that the more you control the public debate with outrageous stories, the more distinctive you will become and the more the media will reward you with attention. Both elements - distinctiveness and mental availability - create a perfect storm for rising in market share.
The nature of the algorithms
These laws are understood for a long time, but a recent phenomenon extremely amplified this effect: an algorithmic preference. Steve Bannon (and the Russians) exploited this knowledge to get Donal Trump elected. The AI that is running the Facebook and Google Algorithms learned over time that the best way to get people to spend as much time as possible on social media is to make them angry. In other words, media algorithms love outrage and indignation. So they promote and amplify shocking content, which in turn gets more amplified by offended users. A recent analysis of the success of Nigel Farage's spectacular victory found that although the Brexit Party published only 13% of the content, they accounted for 51% of all the content being shared. At the same time, the Remain camp invested more than 100.000 Pounds in Facebook ads but got only 1,1% of all the attention. The secret: Farage used simple and negative messages that got shared a lot.