Mike Bloomberg is running for president. It took him awhile to admit it but he finally said it: He wants to be the big cheese. President Mike. The Bloomberg-in-Chief. Could he make it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Only the voters can say. For now, Bloomberg is content to do weird posts online. But why? That’s the million dollar question, or should I say billion? (Because Mike Bloomberg has billions of dollars.)
The most famous Bloomberg weird post is the meatball tweet. If you already know what the meatball tweet is, great. If you don’t, I’m sorry to have to show it to you. Here it is.
Let’s be clear: The meatball that looks like Mike is front and center. Not a difficult challenge, in my opinion. Michael Bloomberg’s team (Team Bloomberg, boring name) tweeted the meatball thing during one of the six bajillion Democratic debates that have happened this season as some sort of counterprogramming. If he wasn’t going to be onstage, he was gonna be in everyone’s feeds.
It’s not the only weird Bloomberg tweet. This week, his team posted video of Trump’s impeachment-acquittal speech overdubbed with the word lie and a dancing gingerbread man from Shrek superimposed on the frame.
Extremely stupid. There are other silly posts. Like one about Gerald Ford eating a calzone, or him using a stamp that says “OMG NO” to veto bills, or one with the “This is fine” meme. During the State of the Union, Bloomberg’s team was imploring potential voters to check out the new Fast & Furious trailer.
It would be easy to see all of this “trendy, weird, online” brand stuff — à la the Denny’s Twitter account — as a baffling and cynical attempt to engage with young voters. Millennial and Gen-Z types can’t just engage with policies they like, they need a trendy candidate they can engage with.
There is some truth to this theory. This morning, the Daily Beast reported that Bloomberg is paying micro influencers (social media accounts with barely tens of thousands of followers at most) $150 each to make posts about why they like Mike. For a normal presidential campaign that relies on donors and has to be prudent with how they spend every dollar, this seems stupid. For Bloomberg, it’s chump change. He’s not even spending down his fortune on this campaign, so he can afford to throw crap at the wall and see what sticks. It’s not so much a deliberate strategy as much as another thing for campaign workers to try, thanks to Bloomberg’s blank check.
But the weird tweets are different — messaging not from surrogates but from the official campaign mouthpiece. The tweets are not for young people. To understand why, you need to remember what Twitter is good for.
Twitter is not good for directly manipulating mass opinion. It is not good for individually convincing 100,000 people that Mike Bloomberg should be the president. However, it is very good at convincing pundits and politicians watching the race closely that Mike Bloomberg is making weird tweets to try and appeal to young voters. The weird tweets are a type of meta act to capture the attention of people who have broken brains because they have to think about the election all the time.
There is no shortage of verified Twitter users — journalists and pundits — dunking on the meatball tweet, giving it sunshine despite the fact that it tells us nothing about Bloomberg’s policies, his opinions, or how people actually feel about his campaign. “Going weird” is a strategy less about reaching the perceived target group, young people, and more about reaching the people who think too much about media strategy and brand voice. The amount of earned media that the meatball tweet got from the pundit class is likely worth more than whatever recognition the campaign received from actual potential voters.
For campaigns and social-media marketing, telling a good joke is less valuable than simply being in on the joke. That would explain why, according to Gothamist, the campaign tried to retain the services of Rachel Figueroa, the mind behind @ElBloombito, the parody Twitter account that makes fun of Bloomberg’s Spanish accent. Whatever El Bloombito posted in support of the campaign is likely worth less than the exposure gained by Bloomberg being in on the joke at all.
All of this is to say that Bloomberg isn’t trying to be cool and failing. His campaign exists in a media ecosystem where anything not explicitly negative is a positive, one in which confusing people and getting attention is just as useful as inspiring people.