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Brief Published: 6 Mar 2020

Mike Bloomberg & the Limits of Commodified Memes

An actual meme about Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg, the former US Democratic presidential candidate, has spent hundreds of millions to be omnipresent in advertising spaces – including a push into meme culture.

We saw this direction emerge during the 2016 US elections (see our video Pop Culture Year in Review 2016). However, this attempt at harnessing the power of memes was met with widespread derision. Bloomberg's team made a few missteps: they entered the space through a recently formed company called Meme 2020, made up of existing social meme accounts with millions of followers and geared towards utilising memes for commercial gain. Furthermore, the collective includes @FuckJerry, notorious for stealing content from smaller creators to grow and monetise its supersized audience. They then pushed the same joke format of fake direct messages from Bloomberg through all accounts.

As we explained at length in our Pop Culture Close-Up: Meme Mechanics, a meme is a central idea that is iterated upon by its audience. Prefabricated images published on influencer accounts are just ads. Brands cannot buy space for pre-vetted messages on the meme circuit. Social video platform TikTok has successfully activated the commercial opportunity of meme mechanics with its hashtag challenges. Here, brands invite the TikTok community to create and riff on brand-affiliated hashtags. These formats are an access point to crowd creativity, not a channel to push a brand's own content.

Bloomberg has since exited the presidential race, but as the US elections in November draw nearer, we'll track the remaining presidential candidates' attempts at creating an impact on online culture. For the latest commercial opportunities in new media formats, check out State of Media: 2020 Update.