Michael Bloomberg’s Instagram Meme Campaign Forces Facebook to Address New Form of Political Ads

Posts must be disclosed as paid, but only boosted posts are subject to broader requirements

Mike Bloomberg's meme campaign isn't going over well with Instagrammers.
Mike Bloomberg's meme campaign isn't going over well with Instagrammers. Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg’s meme campaign on Instagram may not be resonating with potential voters if the comments are any indication, but the unique tactic forced Instagram and parent company Facebook to quickly determine how to handle political ads in the form of branded content.

Facebook said today that creators and influencers are allowed to work with political candidates on content as long as they disclose paid partnerships via the social network’s branded content tools and make it clear to people that the content was sponsored by incorporating the branded content tag.

Content of this sort is not covered by Facebook’s political advertising rules, as the company pointed out that Facebook does not receive payment for branded content on its platform, and the social network’s ad-targeting capabilities are not in play.

The company clarified that it prohibits political entities themselves from running branded content by default, as its policies covering branded content apply to all forms of monetization on its platform and not just ads. The platform added this policy avoids any risk of monetization products—such as in-stream video ads and subscriptions—being seen as ways for campaigns to collect monetary contributions.

However, if any of these posts by creators and influencers are boosted, they are then are considered to be political ads and subject to all of Facebook’s requirements, and they will be included in its Ad Library, which stores political and issue-related ads and information about those ads for seven years.

Facebook said it is asking creators and influencers who were involved in Bloomberg’s meme campaign to retroactively apply the branded content tag to applicable posts, adding that these guidelines are in place only in the U.S. for now as it continues to evolve its policies.

The social network said in a statement: “After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms. We’re allowing U.S.-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorized and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.”

The Bloomberg campaign did not address Facebook’s policy move, saying in an emailed 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 that it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Donald Trump’s powerful digital operation.”

As reported earlier this week, the Bloomberg campaign teamed up with Meme 2020—a group of high-profile meme accounts led by Jerry Media CEO Mick Purzycki—to buy several posts on popular Instagram meme accounts with millions of followers apiece.

Those posts all feature fake direct messages between Bloomberg’s account and the meme account, with the former asking the latter to help make him look “cool” prior to the Democratic primaries.

However, the posts seem to have had the opposite effect, as the majority of comments from Instagrammers blasted the meme accounts for getting involved with Bloomberg in the first place.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.