When Memes, Influencers & Politics Collide
Last week saw perhaps one of the largest ever influencer marketing onslaughts as US Democrat nominee wannabe, Mike Bloomberg, threw his golden-rimmed hat into the ring.
Bloomberg’s campaign team recruited some of the largest meme accounts on Instagram, via Meme 2020, unleashing an unprecedented, coordinated wave of sponsored posts to raise awareness for his late run.
In a significant coup for Aussie influencer network Tribe, Bloomberg’s team also tapped up Jules Lund’s start-up to help unlock the lower end of the influencer food-chain. Offering US based micro-influencers $150 a pop to say nice things about the US billionaire.
Bloomberg has plowed an estimated US$300 million into ads for his campaign in recent weeks, including roughly US$45 million on digital ads alone. To put that in perspective, Amy Klobuchar, a rival moderate, recently had $5m in hand.
Resultantly, Bloomberg now sits third in The Economist’s national polling aggregate, on 16%. And with Joe Biden falling, he may soon be second to Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sabrina Singh, of the Bloomberg Campaign
“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.”
However, moving forward for Bloomberg, Sanders, Trump, Morrison, Boris and anyone else who fancies tapping the influencer landscape, it will have to be a whole lot more transparent.
Ambiguous Disclosure Confusing Users
Bloomberg has assembled an all-star digital cast to help his late surge for the Democrat nomination.
His 2000+ campaign team includes Gary Briggs, the former CMO of Facebook, and Jeff Glueck, the former CEO of Foursquare. Together, Briggs and Glueck oversee Bloomberg’s digital advertising agency, called Hawkfish.
Therefore, it would be wise to expect further smart social tactics. However, the latest influencer stunt has raised important questions related to sponsorship transparency.
Perhaps best encapsulated by meme maestro @Tank.Sinatra last week, via the New York Times, when discussing his sponsored work for Bloomberg:
“It’s the most successful ad that I’ve ever posted. And I think a lot of it came from people being confused whether or not it was real.”
Disclosure along the lines of,"Yes this is really #sponsored by @mikebloomberg”, from accounts that specilaise in satire could easily be construed as… satire.
Hence the confusion.
On a related note, imagine how the world might have reacted if the Trump Campaign had used similar tactics, blurring the lines between organic and paid activity?
Would Mumbrella’s 1,000 word Tribe write-up last week have been quite so glowing? And, what of its infamous comments thread?
Therefore, it is following Bloomberg’s recent push that Instagram is changing its advertising rules to require political campaigns’ sponsored posts from influencers to use its Branded Content Ads tool. Adding a disclosure label of “Paid Partnership with.”
Simply using #ad, #sponcon, or similar is no longer deemed sufficient.
#Ad Disclosure No Longer Enough For Influencer Campaigns
Facebook is now asking all political sponsorships, including the Bloomberg memes retroactively, to be disclosed with a label using this tool.
That would add a “Paid Partnership with Bloomberg 2020” warning to posts and Stories that the campaign paid meme pages and other influencers to post.
Facebook had, before this, been reluctant to integrate branded content and political campaigning, for fears that it could be deemed as a form of making campaign contributions by Facebook. Due to the various monetisation opportunities which exist within the branded content suite.
However, it has in recent days backtracked on this, to bring greater transparency.
"After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms. We’re allowing US-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorised and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.
Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms,"
As influencer transparency and regulation calls grow in the UK, US and around the globe, it is possible that Facebook could jump before it is pushed. Extending these new influencer guidelines more broadly to incorporate the non-political.
If not entirely, then certainly in part, much like it has with the Facebook Ads Library.
In the meantime, it might be a good idea for influencer, brands and agencies to begin better familiarising themselves with the branded content suite and its growing set of bells and whistle.
Not to mention, keeping a watchful eye on any other fancy footwork from Bloomberg's digital dream team. The coming months will see the boundaries of digital comms stretched to the absolute limits, as the battle for Donald Trump's Iron Throne heats up.