Politicians have finally clocked that we live by the sword and die by the sword in 2020 – by which we mean, they all want to crack TikTok.
The battleground for political support takes place on the social media platforms we spend our lives on.
Donald Trump, former celebrity and now chief orange in charge of the nuclear arsenal, has long instinctively known how to maximise internet chatter for his own gain (say what you want about Trump, but he’s an adept memer).
In contrast, the Democrats vying to become Trump’s opponent in the 2020 presidential race aren’t quite as savvy (yet).
This works in the favour of some of them, like Bernie Sanders. His grumpy grandpa persona lends itself well to memes, usually independently created by supporters that include a huge swathe of young people (who also would quite like the universal healthcare and removal of extortionate student debt Sanders is promising).
But for others, like billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a different approach is needed.
Which is why his campaign team has been paying out eye-watering sums to top Instagram meme accounts to post paid adverts for Bloomberg (he’s got the cash to spare – around $62bn).
Influencers are refusing to confirm exactly how much they were paid but it’s thought they received around $5,000 for a post.
The chats apparently showed Bloomberg ‘trying’ to be cool and down with the kids but messing up in some way, such as one exchange where he was instructed to “send over [a] file,” and instead uploads of a picture of a lever arch file.
The campaign paints Bloomberg as a confused ‘boomer’ trying to get to grips with millennial and Gen Z internet rapport.
But Instagram rules around advertising mean that the sponsored nature of the posts had to be disclosed by influencers in the captions – which lent a very dystopian edge to proceedings (Instagram has now updated its regulations further following the posts, to ensure political adverts are properly tagged).
One post by @sonny5ideup, who has 1.3 million followers, showed Bloomberg asking “Mr Sideup” to help him make a “viral meme to let younger demographics know I’m the cool candidate”.
@sonny5ideup posted the picture, with a caption reading “What do you think guys? Can we make this viral? (Sponsored by @mikebloomberg)”.
But the campaign – which is masterminded by company Meme 2020 which commands an audience of more than 60 million via clients and is headed by the people who marketed Fyre Fest – isn’t impressing lots of young people who are accusing the accounts of selling out.
Bloomberg has faced serious accusations of racism after masterminding a ‘Broken Windows’ policing strategy that targeted ethnic minorities while mayor of New York City.
The allegations got louder this week after audio emerged of Bloomberg saying that 95 per cent of murderers fit “one MO”, going on to describe the profile as “male minorities, 15 to 25 [years-old]”.
He’s also sparked backlash for seemingly referring transgender women as “some man wearing a dress” during a 2016 panel discussion at Oxford University.
More than half of the Gen Z individuals Bloomberg hopes to reach with his meme stunt identify as LGBTQ+ and know someone first hand who goes by gender neutral pronouns.
So it’s no wonder they’re not too happy with seeing big meme accounts accept sponsorship in exchange for promotion.
There were some who seemed to accidentally align with the persona created by Bloomberg’s social media team.
Others saw his actions as akin to buying the presidency.
Some begrudgingly called the stunt genius.
And other meme accounts chimed in, making fun of those who’d accepted the cash.
The stunt seemed to work though – Bloomberg apparently welcomed 47,000 new followers overnight after the posts went live.
Money might buy you the White House but, as the Countess Luann once sang, it will never buy you class, sir!