Michael Bloomberg is everywhere. If you watch a YouTube video, there’s a Bloomberg 2020 ad. If you live in any Super Tuesday state, he’s on your television. And now he’s all over your Instagram. Michael Bloomberg is hiring New York media savvy image firms and viral influencers to Poochie his way into the White House. Right now, it’s largely being written off by media and pundits as a weird internet gimmick and not a serious political strategy. But the thing is, it just might work.
Political pundits are thinking like outdated campaign flacks from yesteryear, when Reddit groups and 4Chan memes couldn’t carry a serious candidate to the White House. Except that’s exactly what happened in 2016. Under the memes of Donald Trump’s glowing head on Bioshock’s body or animated gifs of Trump smiling as he built a brick wall belonged a rabid and then suddenly activated fanbase. Legacy media thought social media somehow belonged to them, (and still does), so they never saw it coming. Bloomberg doesn’t have the rabid following that Trump has, but he does have no problem shamelessly buying that love from cash-starved too-online millennials who, for a few hundred or thousand dollars, will TikTok themselves eating Tide Pods and yelling, ‘Vote for Mike!’
Several influencer accounts that Bloomberg has reached out to include @WhitePeopleHumor, @FuckJerry (The firm behind Fyre Festival’s promotional materials), and @ShitheadSteve. These top Instagram accounts have over 60 million followers. Some of these accounts have taken the opportunity to clown on Bloomberg for trying to buy their platform, but even as those screenshots and fake memes are blasted all over Twitter and Facebook, Bloomberg wins again — his face and name are everywhere.
This may well end with Bloomberg in the White House, because he isn’t running a political campaign. He’s running a viral ad campaign, much the same way Donald Trump used Instagram to build his personal brand, doing brief videos for years leading up to this presidential run. Bloomberg is meeting Donald Trump in the arena both men are familiar and successful with, and that’s media branding. No other candidate running on the Democratic side seems to understand this game. Sure, Bernie Sanders has several illustrators working on his behalf, but he’s not paying them. Bloomberg is shelling out millions for the best media strategy his money can buy, and he has a heck of a lot of money.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, campaign spokesperson Sabrina Singh laid out the Bloomberg campaign’s digital strategy. ‘Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,’ she explained. ‘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.’
While candidates like former mayor Pete Buttigieg struggle to capture the online charismatic cult following of Barack Obama, and Elizabeth Warren awkwardly attempts to drink a beer on Instagram Live, Bloomberg is leaving the image control to the experts. He’s not trying to necessarily pretend to be something he’s not. He understands he’s selling a product, and who better to sell a new generation of voters than the YouTube personalities and Instagram meme lords themselves? For all the talk of getting money out of politics, and railing on about buying one’s way to the White House, Bloomberg’s media operation has figured out something that Bernie Sanders and his hoards of online bros haven’t — in the end, capitalism always wins, and with an online army bought and paid for, so might Michael Bloomberg.