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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Bloomberg ads could do but so much

Former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg gestures to

Former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg gestures to supporters as he announces the suspension of his campaign and his endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden for president in New York on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Sixty-three million dollars later, there are now no active Facebook ads running from Mike Bloomberg’s aborted presidential campaign.

That’s a big shift for the smartphones and laptop screens of America. Since November, when the former New York City mayor launched his campaign, Bloomberg made himself impossible to miss on TV and social media. His social media focus wasn’t new — but the scale was. The $63 million he spent on Facebook ads is more than double the expenditures of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders combined.

Bloomberg’s seemingly limitless resources meant he could run video ads, which tend to perform better. He could micro-target, tweaking colors or text for men or women.

His ads covered climate change, gun control, reproductive rights, health care, maternal mortality and President Donald Trump. When you can spend a nearly unlimited sum, you don’t have to rely on media coverage. You can just buy ads — sometimes vague, virtually unchallenged, imprinted on a viewer’s mind.

It worked, or it seemed to. Bloomberg’s poll numbers soared. His video ad about gun control featuring former President Barack Obama was so positive and swankily produced that it could almost be viewed as an ungiven endorsement. The billionaire was in America’s head, on his terms. Was he a little stiff and flat on the campaign trail? On social media, he hired meme-makers for jokes. Did he have vulnerabilities? On Facebook, he could just hammer Trump’s. Among the last Facebook ads America saw from the Bloomberg campaign were a series of knock-knock joke videos where the punchlines were things like “ANOTHER FARM BANKRUPTCY THANKS TO TRUMP’S TRADE WAR.”

“TO TRUMP IT’S ALL A JOKE!” the ads said, fanning out (briefly) to users in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Maine ....

We now know that the social media barrage — and the TV, and the highly paid campaign staffers, and the catered events, and the storefront offices — didn’t result in Super Tuesday success for Bloomberg.

Some of it was the unconventional campaign strategy, skipping early states. Some of it was Bloomberg’s record on policing. A good chunk of the problem may have been Hizzoner’s debate performance in Nevada, which punctured holes in the image of the man from the ads.

But the fact that Bloomberg ended up with few delegates despite spending some half a billion dollars is a suggestion that money alone isn’t enough to become president.

It’s worth comparing Bloomberg’s level of success to that of Trump. Like Bloomberg, Trump bet big on Facebook: less than the Democrat, but still more than $33 million in ads since 2018. Like Bloomberg, Trump has had the money to target those ads carefully.

But Trump’s ads are echoed by supporters in the real world, real voters who want to hear about “THE WALL” and “FAKE NEWS” and how Trump will “CRUSH the liberal mob.”

Unlike Bloomberg, Trump asks for donations, and his ads help him rake in dollars and gather supporters with clear answers to leading questions posed by the ads, like “Do you believe that the colossal surge of illegal aliens is overwhelming our immigration system to the point that our country is FULL?”

In other words, Trump’s ads helped feed a movement, one that is revving up for 2020.

It may be that Bloomberg can repurpose the data gleaned from his ads to help the eventual Democratic nominee. But for now he’s finding that a presidential candidate without either a movement or a track record with voters is just standing in place.

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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