Jerry Media, the promoter behind the botched Fyre Festival, is working with the presidential campaign of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an effort to make the 77-year-old candidate look cool, The New York Times reports. The Meme 2020 project, led by Mick Purzycki, executive director of Jerry Media, has enlisted influencers with large followings to create content for the campaign and promote it to their audiences.
A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson did not provide answers to emailed questions from The Verge about the ad campaign, but offered a prepared statement: “Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world. 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.”
George Resch, director of influencer marketing at BrandFire, told the Times the Bloomberg ad was the most successful one he ever posted to his @Tank.Sinatra Instagram account. He said in a phone call with The Verge that he understands why some of his followers aren’t happy about it, however, adding that he’s not affiliated with Jerry Media.
“These memes and paid ads are not an endorsement of Michael Bloomberg,” Resch says. He says for him, the ads are a way to “re-democratize” a political process that has been upended by President Trump and his self-funded political campaign of 2016. “Myself and other people with big followers wanted to figure out: how can we elevate different candidates? Bloomberg was the first one to see the humor and was willing to be the butt of the joke and be self-deprecating.”
Asked how elevating the wealthiest Democrat in the race was “democratizing” the process, Resch points out that all political candidates spend money on advertising. “We’re very careful to say ‘this is sponsored by Mike Bloomberg,’” he says. “No one calls NBC and asks them to take down a [paid TV] commercial.”
Resch says if Trump approached him for paid advertisements, he would consider it. “If we were allowed to make fun of him, I would definitely think about it,” he says. “I’ve been making fun of Donald Trump for free for years, so if he wants to pay me I would think about it.”
Some of the comments on the sponsored posts have been sharply critical, and as Jesselyn Cook of HuffPost points out, even Instagram personality TheFatJewish (aka Josh Ostrovsky) says he declined to participate.
The overall theme of the ads sees Bloomberg, in full dad mode, approaching the influencer and asking for “help.” One ad on the GrapeJuiceBoys page (3.7 million followers) has Bloomberg asking “Can you post an original meme to make me look cool for the upcoming Democratic primary?”
Not long after the Iowa caucuses, the Bloomberg campaign began seeking influencers on the Tribe branded content platform, offering $150 to micro-influencers to create content “that tells us why Mike Bloomberg is the electable candidate who can rise above the fray, work across the aisle so ALL Americans feel heard & respected,” according to The Daily Beast. The influencers on Tribe’s platform create custom social content based on a brand’s criteria, either for placement on the brand’s (or in this case, the candidate’s) social feeds or on their own feeds as sponcon.
The influencer campaign apparently is part of Bloomberg’s pre-Super Tuesday advertising push; NBC News reports his campaign has spent an average of $1 million per day on Facebook advertising in the first two weeks of February. That’s five times what the Trump campaign spent during the same two-week period.
But Ostrovsky criticized Resch’s post, saying he personally couldn’t get behind Bloomberg. “They asked me to do it, I said no. I grew up in New York City so I can tell you firsthand, Bloomberg is a colossal shitbag,” Ostrovsky writes in his comment. “I’d encourage any meme account owner to take schmoney from basically any brand … because brands are trash and deserve to have their money taken, but this dystopian black mirror simulation is too much for me…”
For his part, Resch says he doesn’t see anything wrong with injecting a little humor into politics. “And if you’re coming to a meme page for real political commentary, you’re missing the point.”