The Brief: Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg launched a meme ad campaign consisting of sponsored Instagram posts from meme accounts and influencers.

Bluesquiggle
DEEP DIVE

On February 12, 2020, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign launched a multi-part meme advertisement series via sponsored posts by popular Instagram meme accounts, some of which have millions of followers. These image macro memes were met with support, dissent, and confusion from their social media audiences. As Bloomberg’s campaign appears to be trying to harness the power of viral memes and self-aware irony to support the 77-year-old candidate, it raises the question of the power of memes in contemporary politics, and in this case, curated sponsored memes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8fLyStAKJ4/?utm_source=ig_embed

In an article for the New York Times, Taylor Lorenz reported that Bloomberg’s campaign has teamed up with a company called Meme 2020, which has ties to the Jerry Media, the company behind such meme accounts as @F*ckJerry

According to a report in The Daily Beast, the Bloomberg campaign has been offering micro-influencers $150 to create sponsored content for the campaign on an influencer marketing platform called Tribe.  As the accounts participating in this meme surge have up to millions of followers, it’s likely that they were paid at higher rates.

In a statement to the New York Times, Sabrina Singh, a senior national spokeswoman for the Bloomberg campaign said “Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,” and “While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation.”

Mike Bloomberg’s Meme Surge

The New York Times listed the following Instagram accounts as participants in this Meme 2020 campaign: @MyTherapistSays, @WhitePeopleHumor, @TheFunnyIntrovert, @KaleSalad, @Sonny5ideUp, @Tank.Sinatra, @ShitheadSteve, @adam.the.creator, @moistbudda, @MrsDowJones, @TrashCanPaul, @cohmedy, @NeatDad, @FourTwenty, @GolfersDoingThings, @DrGrayFang, @MiddleClassFancy, and @DoYouEvenLift.

The majority of these memes feature screenshots of fictional Instagram DM’s between Mike Bloomberg and the account’s admin. Although these posts, some of which have received tens of thousands of likes, have been labeled as sponsored content, there has been confusion online about whether these were actually sponsored, or if they were meant as tongue-in-cheek roasts of Bloomberg. Some posts even clarify in their captions “yes this is really sponsored by @mikebloomberg” to quell any confusion about the authenticity of their partnership.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8fR4xnlqw6/?utm_source=ig_embed

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8fVtgAhOGr/

Reactions To Bloomberg Memes

Comments on these meme posts range from support and jokes from other Bloomberg-sponsored meme accounts to calls to support competing candidates to more offers to create campaign-related meme content.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8hEpydBRX_/

Top comments from meme accounts who also participated in the ad campaign indicate that their engagement with these posts may be part of the marketing they were paid for.

Praise also comes from accounts that don’t appear to be sponsored, thus showing that the paid content may have led to more organic engagement as well.

Oppositional comments like “#BloombergIsRacist,” “I’ll pay you 150 to delete this,” “Stop trying to make Bloomberg happen,” “Vote for Bernie Sanders” and “Wasting your time. Trump wins 2020” received hundreds and even thousands of likes.

Self-Aware Engagement Or Accidental Cringe-Fest?

The memes in question and the ways in which they’ve been received thus far on social media highlight the complexities of irony versus earnestness in online meme culture. The Bloomberg meme surge appears to try to embrace a “how do you do fellow kids” self-drag approach to boost Bloomberg’s credibility as an in-the-know, self-aware candidate.

In the top-ranked response to a question about Bloomberg’s meme campaign on the subreddit r/OutOfTheLoop, user u/Real_Mila_Kunis explained the situation, commenting:

On the surface, this looks pretty ridiculous: the idea that Bloomberg is trying to get on the bandwagon — by both reaching out to the ‘cool’ side of the internet with wads of cash and being comically bad at understanding the culture he’s trying to buy — is a joke that pretty much writes itself.

While other campaigns like those of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have appeared to benefit from supporter-generated memes, Bloomberg’s push to manufacture meme engagement may replicate some of this, but not without seeming forced and cringey.

This Instagram meme push occurred days after the New Hampshire Democratic primary where Bloomberg was not on the ballot. After the Iowa Caucuses, Bloomberg authorized his campaign team to double TV ad spending. So far, his campaign has spent millions on Facebook ad spending, outpacing Donald Trump. In total, the Bloomberg campaign has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad spending.