WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Mr Michael Bloomberg has contracted with some of the biggest meme-makers on the internet to post sponsored content on Instagram promoting his presidential campaign.
The Bloomberg campaign is working with Meme 2020, a new company formed by some of the people behind extremely influential accounts.
Mr Mick Purzycki is the lead strategist of the Meme 2020 project. He is also the chief executive of Jerry Media, a media and marketing company that is a powerful force in the influencer economy.
The company's portfolio includes some of the most notable meme accounts on Instagram. Jerry Media was at the centre of controversy last year after a debate around proper crediting in meme culture.
In January, Mr Purzycki tapped a number of large influencers whom he had formed relationships with through his association with Jerry Media.
The campaign, which launched this week, has already placed sponsored posts on Instagram accounts including @GrapeJuiceBoys, a meme page with more than 2.7 million followers; Jerry Media's own most popular account, with more than 13.3 million followers; and @Tank.Sinatra, a member with more than 2.3 million followers.
The accounts all posted Bloomberg campaign ads in the form of fake direct messages from the candidate.
"Mr. Tank:" an ad on @Tank.Sinatra begins, "I've been waiting for my meme for so long that I learned how to make memes myself in photoshop. What do you think of this one?" The message is followed by a photo of Mr Bernie Sanders that has become a meme in recent weeks.
Mr George Resch, a director of influencer marketing at Brandfire and founder of @Tank.Sinatra, has served as Meme 2020's primary liaison with the meme community.
Mr Resch has posted two ads so far on behalf of the campaign. On Sunday (Feb 9), he posted an ad in which a fake direct message from Mr Bloomberg asks Mr Resch to make him look "cool" for the Democratic primary.
Mr Evan Reeves, a creative director for Jerry Media, was brought in as the head of creative to devise an unconventional campaign and to build a self-aware ironic character around Mr Bloomberg.
All of the ads posted so far feature disclosures that they are ads, although many followers assumed that the posts were satirical. One account made the disclosure straightforwardly: "yes this is really #sponsored by @mikebloomberg," in the caption.
"It's the most successful ad that I've ever posted,"Mr Resch said, "and I think a lot of it came from people being confused whether or not it was real".
Other influencers have been quick to praise the campaign.
"Best advert ever," commented Mr Chris Burkard, a travel influencer who has more than 3.5 million followers.
"So good," commented Mr Jason Strauss, a partner at the Tao Group.
Many meme account followers, however, were more skeptical. "This is a clear example of what wealth can get you votes. Bloomberg's a billionaire and is able to pull in endorsements like this," commented user @rebelwithoutapause-.
"I hate this," commented musician Ed Droste.
Memers involved with Meme 2020 include: @MyTherapistSays, @WhitePeopleHumor, @TheFunnyIntrovert, @KaleSalad, @Sonny5ideUp, @Tank.Sinatra, @ShitheadSteve, @adam.the.creator, @moistbudda, @MrsDowJones, @TrashCanPaul, @cohmedy, @NeatDad, @FourTwenty, @GolfersDoingThings, @DrGrayFang, @MiddleClassFancy and @DoYouEvenLift.
Together, the collective has an audience of more than 60 million followers.
"Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world," Ms Sabrina Singh, a senior national spokesman for the Bloomberg campaign, said in a statement.
"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."
The campaign recently announced it had hired Mr Eric Kuhn, who made a name for himself as Hollywood's first "social media agent," representing digital talent at United Talent Agency.
Last week, The Daily Beast reported that the Bloomberg campaign was offering social media influencers US$150 (S$200) to create content in support of Mr Bloomberg through Tribe, a "branded content marketplace" that connects social-media influencers with brands.
"We're trying to be innovative with how we're translating the campaign message on social, trying to do it how the internet actually works," an aide to the Bloomberg campaign said. "Tweeting from @mikebloomberg is a very 2008 strategy." "The way Trump's campaign is run is extremely social first," the aide continued.
"We're trying to break the mold in how the Democratic Party works with marketing, communication and advertising, and do it in a way that's extremely internet and social native."
Other candidates, like Mr Andrew Yang, who announced the end of his campaign this week, have been able to make a splash on social media by appealing to influential YouTubers and memers.
Mr Sanders has successfully secured endorsements from popular internet figures with large followings such as podcaster Joe Rogan and YouTubers Tyler Oakley and Ethan Klein. Niche meme communities like Da Share Zone and NUMTOT have also come out in support of Mr Sanders.
After several large Instagram memers became aware Wednesday of Bloomberg's influencer campaign, many expressed an interest in creating sponsored posts for him. The campaign so far has seemed amenable.
"We want to work with creators, and we've never been shy about paying people for creative work," the aide said.
Teenagers, many of whom can't yet vote themselves, seemed excited about the prospect. "I would be down - bread is bread," said the teenager who runs the meme page @BigDadWhip. "That would be kind of dope. I could say I helped a presidential candidate."