The biggest story of the 2020 campaign right now is the rapid rise of Mike Bloomberg. I’ve written about his entry into the race in December, but things have escalated a lot since then. When the year began, I said that I would largely avoid talking about politics beyond my quarterly updates, but Bloomberg’s undisguised attempt to buy one of the nation’s major political parties, and the presidency, seems like it’s worth discussing, just not in the stupid way you can expect from a very stupid media.
So let’s discuss. Specifically, there are three questions about the Bloomberg campaign you should ask if you’re a student of persuasion. If you ask the right questions, you’ll look for the right answers.
1. How familiar is Mike Bloomberg, really?
This is key. In November, Mike Bloomberg correctly calculated that first, Joe Biden was weak, and second, the entire Democratic field was weak, incapable of beating Donald Trump. Biden’s weakness was the opportunity for him to find his niche as a candidate.
It was a sensible calculation. Joe Biden was running on his brand name alone. He may be old, visibly senile, and insulting to voters, but he had a brand everybody recognized, and there was a lot of Obama nostalgia amongst the ranks of the Democratic faithful.
But as I predicted, the longer the campaign went on, the weaker Joe Biden became. For a while in December, I was wondering if I would eat crow on that, because the field was full of such nonentities that it looked like Biden might just limp through on his name alone, but Bernie Sanders began to consolidate the support he needed in the wake of Elizabeth Warren’s fall. Sanders has a brand name on par with Biden, and unlike him, real social proof and a real campaign offer. As such, he emerged as the frontrunner.
Bloomberg began to carpet bomb the airwaves and internet in response to this, spending over $400 million so far to achieve spatial dominance. (By the way, if you’re sick of seeing his ads on YouTube – Adblock Plus is your friend. I haven’t seen a single one). He’s even spending gargantuan amounts of money to hire meme creators on social media.
Whereas Donald Trump achieved total dominance over the national conversation through his personality, messaging, and novel communication style, Mike Bloomberg is trying to do it by hiring a colossal marketing team. It’s almost the organic vs. the paid version of the same strategy.
For now, it appears to be working, as Bloomberg’s poll numbers have gone up. He’s now ranked third or second, depending on who you’re reading and where the poll comes from.
But there is something you need to perfect this media saturation strategy – a brand name of your own. You need to already be familiar with consumers. We’ll get into that shortly.
Is Mike Bloomberg a household name?
Being mayor of one of the world’s media capitals for 12 years helps, as does having your own media empire, but how many people around the country really know Mike Bloomberg? Is there anyone that actually likes him?
(Note: You can get these posts two days early, and a lot of other cool stuff – over 50,000 words worth, by supporting me on Patreon. If you want to know who you can truly trust in today’s media environment, sign up, because that’s the post that’s next coming exclusively to supporters.)
2. How much will people tolerate Mini Mike’s ads?
It’s likely that lesser-recognized brands do not benefit as much from repetition in advertising as more familiar brands do. In fact, they may even be hurt by such repetition over time. This could explain to a large degree why Trump was not what most media figures and academics, including me, thought he was at first. Almost everyone thought he was the “summer flameout” insurgent candidate, the type that quickly rises to the top of the polls but then craters a relatively short time later. These insurgents – the Michelle Bachmanns and Herman Cains of the world, were unfamiliar brands, and the “bump” they received from their advertising brought them up initially. Yet, because they were unfamiliar brands, their ad repetition proved less effective and then counterproductive over the long term, as viewers experienced “wearout,” began to formulate counterarguments against them, and perceived their ad tactics negatively.
This is a passage from Stumped’s sixth chapter, which you can get for free by signing up for my email list. There is a limit to the benefits you can attain from mass advertising alone. Eventually, people will tune you out. If you aren’t a well-known brand, people will tire of you and come to dislike you much faster. This is exactly what we’ve seen with Elizabeth Warren in this election cycle and will inevitably see with Pete Buttigieg.
So where does Mike Bloomberg fall on the scale? Is he a well-known brand that can keep going peddle to the meddle with his advertising and experience less wearout from voters, or is he a “new guy” just spending exorbitantly to repeat his ads, experiencing an initial bump, and is inevitably going to crater because he didn’t have enough recognition?
By April, we should know the answer. The media, obsessed with money, won’t ask this question, but it’s something that you should keep in mind. All money isn’t equal. A dollar spent by a celebrity or well-known brand goes much further than a dollar spent by an upstart, no matter how much money that upstart has.
3. Can all the pizazz in the world sell a shit sandwich?
This is the foundational question you should be asking as you observe this campaign. He’s relying on his money to buy a distressed asset, the Democratic Party. But no matter how hard he tries, no matter who he buys off, Mike Bloomberg is fundamentally out of place in today’s political world.
And his numerous negatives are leaking out every day.
To counter them, Mike Bloomberg is trying to implement the Trump 2016 playbook, using paid advertising to focus attention on the topics he wants rather than the topics he doesn’t want to talk about. He saw that Donald Trump had huge negatives as well and yet, he still won.
The thing is, voters were willing to overlook Trump’s glaring vulnerabilities primarily for two reasons:
- His charisma.
- His novel and well-timed offer to the electorate.
Mike Bloomberg has neither of these two things. I won’t even go into the first point. That’s self-evident.
When it comes to the second, Donald Trump correctly saw that there was a vast market in politics that was being underserved (I explain in detail what that market was in Stumped). No other politician was selling the American nationalist product that these voters were so desperate for. It was a totally unique product. As such, they were willing to go with Donald Trump despite his personal flaws.
Mike Bloomberg, for all his billions, hasn’t done his market research thoroughly. His platform of unmasked plutocracy has no constituency beyond Wall Street, the Washington swamp, and Silicon Valley. He correctly saw that there was a desperation to beat Donald Trump in the Democratic Party and positioned himself to these “beat Trump” voters accordingly, but this won’t work in a general election. Moreover, it risks fracturing the Democratic Party because there is another market within it that wants radical social and economic change. This is the market that Bernie Sanders has dominated for the past few years.
What market will buy Mike Bloomerg in bulk, really? Even the “beat Trump” voters probably aren’t too enthusiastic about him. They’re just desperate, but his product isn’t exactly unique, and he’s a horrible salesman.
Case in point, his slogan: “Mike Will Get It Done.” This is a dismal slogan for many reasons, but primarily because it’s about the seller, not the buyer. Such a self-centered slogan says a lot about Bloomerg and his view of the world.
So can his expensive marketing team really sell this product, which truthfully nobody wants? That’s the ultimate question, and an interesting one, from a persuader’s point of view.
Given his horrendous debate performance this week, the answer seems to be no. You saw how lacking he was in key persuasion indicators there, for example, his horrible frame control. When you get your ass kicked by the fake Indian, you know something’s wrong.
The end of Michael Bloomberg in 2:19.pic.twitter.com/nN0pGwhkBu
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) February 20, 2020
A lot of Democrats who watched the debate last night probably realized — maybe for the first time — that Trump's skill level is other-worldly. They watched Bloomberg die in a debate trap of the sort Trump escaped with the famous "only Rosie O'Donnell" move. It wasn't luck.
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) February 20, 2020
And to be clear, note that I asked these questions before the debate.
Students of persuasion, take note of the Bloomy campaign. 3 questions:
1. How familiar is he, really, to the whole country?
2. What is the limit people will tolerate before tuning out his ads? Familiarity matters here.
3. Can all the pizazz in the world sell a shit sandwich?
— J.M. Carpenter (@Duke_Libertas) February 17, 2020
The shit sandwich had no pizazz to disguise it at that debate. On first contact with actual voters, the fancy wrapping got torn off. Underneath it was a shit sandwich.
Let’s see where he goes from here.
Read Stumped for more. It asks the questions and serves the knowledge the media is too stupid to consider.