When you have Mike Bloomberg money, there is no shortage of ways to spend it. And running for president opens up a whole new world of blowing through cash.
Bloomberg announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. president earlier this week along with plans to spend up to $US1 ($1.5) billion of his own fortune on his campaign. That huge chunk of change will cover all aspects of the campaign, including ad buys. On Google, at least, he’s using his fortune to buy ads touting himself as the climate candidate, a mantle Washington Governor Jay Inslee left behind when he dropped out of the race earlier this year.
Journalist Kate Aronoff tweeted about seeing Bloomberg ads pop up whenever she searched climate-related terms. A non-scientific survey of the responses to the tweet as well as my friends and coworkers reveals that Bloomberg ads are indeed appearing at the top of searches for phrases including “climate change,” “climate crisis,” “climate breakdown,” “global warming,” and this year’s word of the year, “climate emergency.”
But a more scientific dive shows Bloomberg is going much further than four or five terms turned up by climate nerds. Data provided to Gizmodo by an SEO professional who asked to remain anonymous shows that Bloomberg is targeting more than 840 search terms that specifically reference climate with hundreds more that reference climate-adjacent terms.
The results shows Bloomberg is open to welcoming deniers into the fold with ads purchased around terms like “is climate change a hoax” and “is climate change a hoax,” preppers (“best places to survive climate change”), and those concerned with related issues (“poverty and climate change”). At least some ads also target picking off voters interested in other candidates (“Elizabeth Warren climate plan”).
These ads are bought through a program called Google Ads, which allows people or companies to bid on getting their ads to appear at the top of keyword searches. For presidential candidates, it’s smart business. Google any of the candidates’ names and you’ll see an ad at the top for their campaigns.
It’s something each candidate essentially has to do lest a rival buy that space and siphon off clicks and potential voters or volunteers, something Bloomberg has done for Warren in relation to her climate plans (though, interestingly, not any of the other front runners).
Using a tool from SEMrush, a company specialising in SEO analytics, to look at Bloomberg’s Google Ads buys shows that he has at least three climate-themed tag lines. They include “Working Toward a Better Planet,” “Cutting Carbon, Going Green,” and “Fighting for our future.” (I’m not really sure why the last one is sentence case as opposed to title case like the others. Maybe spend some of those Google Ads bucks on better copy editors?).
All told, SEMrush data shows that climate-related ads are far and away Bloomberg’s biggest foray into Google Ads. Tag lines featuring nods to gun control, Trump’s bad tweets, and leadership all trail climate-themed ones in terms of the number of keywords they’re targeting.
The Google Ad buys are just a part of Bloomberg’s bet that tossing a ton of his own money into the primary can buy his way to the White House. With an estimated $US53 ($78) billion net worth and plans to spend upwards of $US1 ($1.5) billion his campaign, Bloomberg is in a position to outcompete most other campaigns in the Google Ads keyword game as well as on social media and the airwaves (see: his record $US34.8 ($51) million television buy).
His choice to go so hard at climate terms shows Bloomberg may be trying to position himself as a climate candidate, something no candidate has fully embraced since Governor Inslee dropped out of the race in August.
That’s not to say there haven’t been signs 2020 Democratic hopefuls taking the topic seriously, from Senator Cory Booker’s strong showing at an environmental justice forum Gizmodo sponsored this month to Senator Bernie standing behind a revolutionary $US16 ($24) trillion climate plan and his promises to bring the weight of the government to bear on fossil fuel corporations, to Warren’s voluminous plans. Even Joe Biden hasn’t totally sucked (wait, scratch that)!
Tom Steyer, the other billionaire running for the Democratic nomination, has tried to position himself that way. He’s brought it up on the debate stage, and while I was trying a few of the Bloomberg search terms, I even had a Steyer ad hit above a Bloomberg one for “Trump statements on climate change.”
But it appears Bloomberg is literally putting his money on there being an Inslee-sized hole that still needs filling—an interesting decision considering questions about climate change have been all but absent from the Democratic debates thus far. We’ll see if he can do it, and whether it’ll be a boon to his campaign (so far, his poll numbers are about on par with the Washington governor, which is to say they’re low).
The Bloomberg campaign did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Bloomberg’s ad buys and candidacy itself, of course, also raises questions about the role private money plays in politics, the wildly unregulated frontier of political ads online, and if billionaires are a moral failure of society. So far, Bloomberg has yet to buy ads against the phrase “every billionaire is a policy failure,” but he certainly has the means to do so.