Billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has hired some of the most popular accounts on Instagram to craft custom memes that make him more relatable to social media users.
Its the latest effort in the former New York City mayors incredibly expensive political advertising strategy on which he spends an unprecedented million dollars a day on Facebook ads alone. But based on the comments Bloombergs recent sponsored posts on Instagram have been getting, things may not be going as planned.
People so far have left over a thousand mostlyscathing comments on just one of these Bloomberg-sponsored memes posted by a popular Instagram influencer, Tank.Sinatra, on Wednesday. Fucking sellout, one reads. Anything, even an election, for a dollar?, says another. You sell out !!!!!! Have some integrity, another user commented.
In recent days, several influential Instagram accounts like FuckJerry that are known for sharing viral content some of it by advertisers, and some of it not started posting memes that build a self-aware, ironic character for the candidate, as The New York Times first reported. The memes, which are labelled in the captions as advertisements, are visible to some 60 million followers who follow these influencer accounts.
The posts are a way to counteract the grassroots support and sponsored content other candidates have gained on social media platforms. Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders won the endorsement of two popular meme community groups, Da Share Zone and NUMTOT earning him street cred in the online humor world. Andrew Yang, who recently dropped out of the Democratic race, built a devoted Yang Gang fan base who tirelessly supported him across the web. And Trumps army of online supporters on Twitter and Facebook helped get him elected back in 2016 (many of those supporters, like some of Sanders fans, have been accused of resorting to harassment and bullying to intimidate detractors).
A screenshot from one of several Instagram accounts that posted Mike Bloomberg sponsored memes
The advertising industry that thrives on Instagram seems to love Bloombergs campaign one marketer who posted a Bloomberg meme told the Times it was the most successful ad hes ever posted. But the onslaught of critical comments on the memes raises questions about the effectiveness of the campaign both for Bloomberg and for the influential meme pages that risk losing their cool by promoting a candidate whos viewed by many of their followers as an out-of-touch billionaire trying to buy his way into an election.
Im not surprised by the negative reaction, Travis N. Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University who researches online political advertising, told Recode. Especially given the media attention that he is getting for this, people could feel like theyre being duped or manipulated.
Many of the negative comments specifically called out Bloomberg for his wealth labelling him an oligarch. Others accused him of trying to distract from his checkered past on racial issues, which includes instituting controversial stop-and-frisk policing in New York City that disproportionately impacted people of color.
A lot of times, memes are seen as organic, created by people who have something funny to say Ridout said. But to the extent that this is seen as something that is paid for a rich guy then it may not have the same impact.
Of course, not all popular memes are profit-free. The very same influencer accounts that are making memes for Bloomberg, like FuckJerry, can make hundreds of thousands of dollars for posting a single authentic-feeling meme for major consumer brands. The firm has attracted criticism in the past for lifting other peoples jokes without attribution. With the Bloomberg meme though, the criticism is different the issue isnt about Fuck Jerry or other marketing accounts exploiting other peoples unpaid labor but around a politician whos viewed as trying to exploit the democratic process by purchasing a hipper image.
A spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign, Sabrina Singh, did not respond to Recodes questions about how the campaign was measuring the success of the ads, or if it had a response to the negative comments. Instead, Singh sent the following statement: Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world. While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, were betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trumps powerful digital operation.
Donald Trump launched what was considered one of the most effective digital political campaign strategies in election history, largely by running Facebook ads that targeted specific voters with messages tailored to their interests and demographics. Of course, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed the campaign hired outside consultants who controversially exploited users private data to do that.
In those cases though, voters were much more likely to have positive or at worst, neutral reactions, since theyd already been identified as likely Trump voters. In this case though, Bloombergs Instagram ads are being blasted to anyone who follows the accounts. Which is why we may be seeing so many negative responses.
And what about the old adage that any press is good press?
That may apply when youre running for state legislature and youre swinging loudly at the gates of Eden, hoping someone will write your name down, but that doesnt apply when youre a billionaire, said Rory McShane, a Republican media consultant. Voters dont like disingenuity. Thats why people dont like the ads.
Its hard to quantify exactly how negative the reaction has been to Bloombergs Instagram ads. Thats because unlike on Facebook, Instagram posts dont publicly display as many analytics. The app recently hid the like count for everyone but the user who posts pictures.
For now, what we can see are the comments were seeing on these posts. And based on those comments, Bloombergs spon con doesnt seem to be convincing people hes any more relatable, hip, or funny than he was before.