Ex-Cambridge Analytica psychologist goes into business with ex-Karmarama and Tug chiefs

Capuchin, named after monkey known for organ-grinding, claims to offer pioneering blend of 'scientific thinking for irrational minds'.

Capuchin: Cragg, Thwaite and Fagan
Capuchin: Cragg, Thwaite and Fagan

A former Cambridge Analytica psychologist and two ad agency executives have joined forces to launch a consultancy dedicated to "measurably changing the behaviour of audiences".

Patrick Fagan, a psychologist and behavioural scientist, has co-founded Capuchin alongside Dan Thwaites, a former managing partner at Karmarama, and James Cragg, former managing director at digital performance marketing agency Tug. 

Capuchin claims to offer a pioneering blend of "scientific thinking for irrational minds" and is named after a monkey breed often used in behavioural experiments to show similarites between humans and other primates. Capuchin monkeys are highly intelligent – so much so that they served as organ-grinders in Victorian England.

Based in London's Marylebone, Capuchin will offer data and behavioural science to uncover deep underlying motivations; strategy to connect organisations with their human audiences; and commercial application to ensure incremental, measurable, scalable returns.

Fagan said: "Humans are a wonderful combination of rational, irrational, logical and emotional, but natural human-to-human intuition doesn’t automatically scale with marketing technology. We design empathy architecture, guiding organisations and their audiences in realising each other’s value for hard commercial results."

Thwaites, Capuchin's chief strategy officer, was chief executive of integrated shop Crayon London before it was bought by Karmarama owner Karma Communications in 2012. He then became managing partner of Karmarama and left a year later and in 2014 co-founded The Nursery, Iris’ innovation unit.

According to Capuchin’s legal filings, Thwaites is the only shareholder with significant control in the business and owns more than 75% of it. Fagan and Cragg also hold equity but the founders declined to give more details.

Cragg is Capuchin's chief commercial officer and has worked as an agency and client-side marketer, having spent time at Tug, Ogilvy and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Cambridge Analytica 'misunderstood'

Capuchin's methodology (using behavioural psychology, big data and targeted engagement) is generally reminiscent of a Cambridge Analytica sales pitch. The data analytics company shut down last year following a data scandal over misuse of Facebook user data and a Channel 4 News sting in which former chief executive Alexander Nix was also caught discussing bribery and entrapment.

In practice, Capuchin will use a toolkit of behaviour techniques to understand customers. It is targeting a client base of brands within all sectors, advertising agencies and political organisations.

For example, the consultancy would typically use a mix of first-party client data analysis and psychometric surveying to capture people’s traits and motivations. To optimise a brand’s communications, it would use "conscious measures", such as standard survey-based market research, and "subconscious measures", such as facial coding and implicit testing.

Fagan, Capuchin’s chief science officer, has worked at Cambridge Analytica during the company's final eight months. He is also a consultant, working with brands including eBay, Trainline and Vodafone, and part-time lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Speaking at a conference in June 2018, four months after The Observer published a whistleblower’s account of how Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook user data to help Donald Trump's US election campaign, Fagan compared the company to a strip club: everybody wants to see what they are doing, but no-one wants to be seen there.

When asked by Campaign if he still believes this, Fagan insisted Cambridge Analytica had been "picked upon" due to its political leanings, as well misunderstandings and misinformation about what data it used and for whom. While he regards this as "unfair", he accepts that it is "completely fair that we all have transparency and control when it comes to our data".

"The Cambridge Analytica approach of combining behavioural science and data science is an effective tool, and an increasing number of brands are using it to optimise their messaging and conversion funnel - with large, measurable results," Fagan explained.

"Although most of us certainly do care about privacy, we just do not have the time, effort or brainpower to read all the T&Cs, nor the understanding of data science to properly consent.

"Fortunately, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ and, as long as freedom of data, information and speech exist on the internet, bad business practices will be exposed and bad businesses won’t survive.

"That is why we are committed to empathy – taking the subconscious intuition we all have in face-to-face interactions and helping businesses to scale it across large audiences."