(Updated: October 30, 2014)
In a crucial Senate election, the NRA is running ads for a socially conservative Republican candidate on a hookup app for gay men.
The pro-gun advocacy group is putting out online ads in Arkansas touting its support of Rep. Tom Cotton, the GOP Senate candidate. And at least one ad has appeared on Grindr, a popular mobile app that allows users to “find local gay, bi and curious guys for dating or friends.”
In a screenshot obtained by The Daily Beast, a picture of the earnest-looking first-term congressman next to the slogan “Defend the Second Amendment” appears at the bottom of the Grindr app.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for Grindr said it would stop running the pro-Cotton ad, which came from a “third-party ad network.”
“While we do have safeguards in place to monitor for ads on third-party networks, we do serve billions of ads on our network, so there is the occasional chance that ads like this may appear,” a Grindr spokesman emailed. “In this instance, we’ve reached out to the third-party networks to have these ads removed.”
According to the company, “political advertising through third-party ad networks is blocked on Grindr.”
However it got there, the appearance of a campaign ad on Grindr is a faux pas for almost any campaign, let alone that of a conservative Republican running in the Bible Belt. And it’s particularly awkward in a socially conservative state where even Mark Pryor, the incumbent Democrat who Cotton is trying to defeat, opposes same-sex marriage.
Cotton, meanwhile, is even more conservative than Pryor on social issues, and opposes legislation that would ban workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Cotton is also backed by the National Organization for Marriage, a group dedicated to opposing same-sex marriage, which has run ads supporting him.
This strange ad placement could mark another hiccup in Republican attempts to try to match Democratic success in online advertising, and Democratic online strategists reached by The Daily Beast discussed the ad buy with a mix of pity and contempt.
One strategist noted that he maintained “a black list” of the various types of sites where he didn’t want ads to run, including X-rated websites, in part because any targeted voters you reach are probably too distracted to pay attention to the ad anyway, and because associating with the sites could prove embarrassing for a candidate. Another strategist said it’s “either super lazy or interesting targeting for them to be on Grindr.”
However, one Republican online strategist suggested that the NRA might have intentionally run the ad on Grindr, explaining that the group “has been very big on expanding its reach beyond the stereotypical straight white male gun owner in recent years. And they might be right about there being a target universe there.”
A spokesman for the Cotton campaign confirmed to The Daily Beast that they had “not paid for or placed that ad.”
Update: Brett Buerck, the President of Majority Strategies, the firm that placed the online buy for Cotton on behalf of the NRA has sent The Daily Beast a forensic report claiming that the image that the original article was based on was doctored. The Daily Beast did not provide this image to Buerck or the NRA but did so to the Cotton campaign.
Further, Grindr, which has not responded to numerous requests for comment from The Daily Beast, told Buzzfeed in a statement from CEO Joel Simkhai “we have no knowledge of the ad mentioned. We do not welcome the NRA to advertise with us.” A spokesman for the company went on to tell Buzzfeed that while the company had reached to third party ad networks asking them to remove the ads ““[N]one of the ad networks had run the ads.”
The Daily Beast has spoken to the person who took the screenshot as well as another eyewitness who saw the screenshot on the original Grindr user’s phone. Both verify that the ad ran on Grindr and has not been edited or altered in any way. The image was taken on October 12 at 6:58 PM Central Time in Little Rock. The Daily Beast also has a second screenshot from Grindr in Little Rock from the same day at 6:57 Central Time but has not been able to contact the person who originally took that screenshot.
There are also multiple reports on Twitter of banner ads for other Republican candidates that have run on Grindr. One appears to be an NRA backed ad in a Florida congressional race, the other is for Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst.
The Daily Beast has not verified the accuracy of either of these ads.
Correction: The original article stated that Starboard Strategic Inc. had undertaken the Internet media buy for the NRA. While all the NRA's public reported Internet advertising on Cotton's behalf so far has been through Starboard Strategic, Majority Strategies has said they placed the buy.