Former NY Mayor, and current Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, thinks that hiring a known “influencers” to create internet memes for him will make him “hip,” and “funny” to younger voters. However, media analysists and social media users who already are both of those things, say his plan is horribly backfiring.
Paying people to produce memes for him is only the latest effort in the former New York City mayor’s incredibly expensive political advertising strategy — on which he spends unprecedented millions of his own money every day. But based on the comments that Bloomberg’s recent sponsored posts on Instagram have been getting, things may not be going as planned.
People so far have left more than 1,000 mostly scathing comments on just one of these Bloomberg-sponsored memes posted by a popular Instagram influencer, Tank. Sinatra, on Wednesday. “F***ing 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 F***Jerry 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 labeled in the captions as advertisements, are visible to some 60 million followers who follow these influencer accounts.
Accoridng to VOX, the posts are a way to counteract the grassroots support and sponsored content other candidates have gained on social media platforms. Democratic primary opponent Sen. 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 Trump’s army of online supporters on Twitter and Facebook helped get him elected in 2016 (many of those supporters, like some of Sanders’s fans, have been accused of resorting to harassment and bullying to intimidate detractors).
The advertising industry that thrives on Instagram seems to love Bloomberg’s campaign — one marketer who posted a Bloomberg meme told the Times it was the most successful ad he’s 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 who’s viewed by many of their followers as an out-of-touch billionaire trying to buy his way into an election.
“I’m 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 they’re being duped or manipulated.”
Many of the negative comments specifically called out Bloomberg for his wealth — labeling him as 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.
Vox went on to say that it’s hard to quantify exactly how negative the reaction has been to Bloomberg’s Instagram ads. “That’s because unlike on Facebook, Instagram posts don’t publicly display as many analytics. The app recently hid the “Like” count for everyone but the user who posts in the US.”
So, for now, what we can see are the comments on these posts, and based on most of those, Bloomberg’s paid social media blitz doesn’t seem to be convincing people he’s any more relatable, hip, or funny than he was before.