On Wednesday night, Instagram was flooded with memes.
But these weren’t normal memes. They were political memes. Sponsored political memes. From the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
The memes were, well, meme-like in nature — made to resemble direct messages, where Bloomberg asked popular pages like @grapejuiceboys, @fuckjerry, and @thefunnyintrovert to help make him more relatable online, or share a “viral” image of him. All with the caption, “yes this is really #sponsored by @mikebloomberg.”
The flurry of satirical memes were sent out around 5 p.m. Wednesday from nearly two dozen accounts with millions of followers in total. Social media erupted, and for a moment it was all chaos and confusion, until a connection was made.
Political advertising has officially hit meme accounts. Wow. pic.twitter.com/y1ZLeWnebg
— Greg Hempenius (@ghempi) February 13, 2020
meme accounts are posting sponcon about bloomberg??? kick me into the sun pic.twitter.com/50IMdRKoNW
— morgan sung (@morgan_sung) February 13, 2020
The New York Times reported that the Instagram eruption was part of Meme2020, an effort between the Bloomberg campaign and Jerry Media, “a media and marketing company that is a powerful force in the influencer economy.” You might also know Jerry Media from its role in the ill-fated Fyre Festival.
Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign, told Digital Trends in a statement that while memes are new to presidential campaigns, “we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation.”
Donald Trump’s team has spent more than $21 million on Facebook ads since May 2018. To combat Trump’s spending, Bloomberg’s team has been dropping more than $1 million a day on the social network over the past few weeks, according to NBC. He’s also come out against his fellow Democratic candidates who call for the breakup of big tech, saying “Breaking things up just to be nasty is not an answer.”
This isn’t Bloomberg’s first outreach to internet influencers either. The Daily Beast reported last week that, in another viral stint, the Bloomberg campaign was advertising on Tribe, a platform where social media influencers can connect with advertisers and team up to make branded content. For a flat $150 fee, creators would post about Bloomberg’s electability and his ability to “rise above the fray.”
You could say Trump meme’d his way to the presidency, too. Google “Trump shares meme” and a stockpile of bizarre tweets surface. Trump’s also been known to share dystopian-esque memes, and include byte-worthy bits into speeches that send his base into frenzy.
So memes are not new. Even political memes are not new — politicians know what makes a viral moment, and often play along in order to capture as many likes, favorites, and retweets as they can.
What is new, however, is viral political #sponcon, or sponsored content.
“You have to meet voters where they are using any means at your disposal, so this is a smart strategy by the Bloomberg team,” said Eric Koch, a Democratic strategist based in New York.
And that’s exactly what Reid Hailey, co-founder and CEO of Doing Things Media, thought when he was approached by Mick Purzycki, head of the Meme 2020 project. Reid knew the type of mockery Bloomberg’s campaign proposed would be a hit among his combined audience of more than 50 million people.
“We specialize in making people laugh, and when this campaign was brought to us, we wanted to jump on the opportunity to be included on it,” said Reid in a statement to Digital Trends.
Reid and his team own and operate over 20 “top comedy accounts” that include @shitheadsteve, @nochaser, @middleclassfancy, @trashcanpaul, @golfersdoingthings, @gamersdoingthings, @festivalist, @doyouevenlift, @neatdad, @neatmom, and @fourtwenty.
With this kind of pull, no wonder social media was set ablaze Wednesday night. Viral meme accounts can reach millions of users in just a matter of minutes. And other political campaigns may be taking notice.
“I suspect you will see more of this in the future,” said Koch. “We’ve already seen how effective it is.”