Mike Bloomberg's Meme Moment Brings Mixed Results in 2020 Race

Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock
February 13, 2020

Mike Bloomberg broke the internet Wednesday night, but like a lot of social media sensations, not all press is good press.

Dozens of popular meme accounts on Instagram feature screenshots of messages from the presidential candidate. "Hello Mr. Salad. Can you post this meme to make me seem cool for the upcoming democratic primary?" reads a message from Mike Bloomberg's account to Kale Salad, an account with 3.5 million followers.

The caption includes a note that said, "yes, this is really #sponsored by @mikebloomberg."

"Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world," Sabrina Singh, a national spokeswoman for the campaign, said in a statement. "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."

Bloomberg's move had mixed results. In comment sections, some are praising the campaign and others think it's disingenuous.

"At first I didn't realize they were ads and just thought they were bizarre satire, but then I saw a headline about it and was pretty annoyed," Allyn Rosenberger, a Stanford Law School student told Cheddar. "Trying to be objective, it is interesting and getting a lot of attention. And it's going to reach a ton of people."

Samantha Bell, who works in digital marketing, called the meme move a "missed opportunity."

"I do think influencer marketing for political campaigns is a smart decision." But Bloomberg's campaign, so far "is trying to reach a group of people that are very thoughtful in politics as well as social media and it kind of comes off slightly too 'try-hard,'" said Bell, who has led other paid influencer campaigns. "You have actual people you follow and look up to. It could absolutely become more of a community PR campaign with actual people who have opinions. People who follow influencers in an organic sense care about the people they're following." She thinks it makes more sense to pay those influencers than paying meme accounts, which is "like inserting yourself in the zeitgeist."

Influencers and online personalities often promote specific products or companies in exchange for money or exposure. But Bloomberg's memes did not provide a call-to-action, like a link to a landing page or a note for where to learn more about a candidate, Sian Rigby, who also works in growth marketing, told Cheddar.

"I would have found it more redeeming if there was an educational aspect," Rigby said. "I'm not going to vote for a candidate because I think they're cool."

Neither Rigby or Bell disagree that social media may prove to be a useful marketing tool for political figures — but they don't think Bloomberg's execution accomplished the intended goal.

"I don't think using Instagram or using social media is a bad thing," Rosenberger said. "It should encourage people to get engaged, not just provide another form of name recognition."

Some endorsements — like that of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Sen. Bernie Sanders, involve social media. She regularly posts about her support. But she's doing it for free.

"People of power and influence endorse candidates very publicly," Annabel Gordon, another growth marketer, told Cheddar. "I feel like it's an untapped market to do that via social media."

"Why haven't they taken their endorsements digitally? That's where people are getting news and taking in content," Gordon offered.