Money can buy you a lot of things – but popularity isn’t necessarily one of them. Michael Bloomberg found this out the hard way, catalyzing a change in Instagram’s branded content ad policy along the way.

What happened?

In an attempt to step up his social media suave, Bloomberg partnered with some of the top Instagram influencers to post memes that were each staged to look like a screenshot of a conversation between the accounts and him.

Bloomberg Instagram Meme

Source: TechCrunch

The staged conversations caused many users to double-take, making it unclear if Bloomberg had paid for the content or not. (Although to be fair, some included tags like #ad or “yes this is really sponsored by @MikeBloomberg.”) A wave of criticism poured out from many users, who felt they’d been duped, or that the meme accounts posting the content were “sellouts.”

The meme above, posted by Instagram account tank.sinatra, included comments such as:

“Tank Sinatra has been bought.. Great”

“This is disappointing. Unfollowing.”

“So much cringe.”

Changes at Instagram

Instagram reacted with an announcement of a change in their policy: now, all influencer content sponsored by political campaigns must use the label “Paid Partnership with” using Instagram’s Branded Content Ads tool. While the tool was available previously, it was optional, not mandatory for political campaigns. As a result of the change, all the posts retroactively had to add a “Paid Partnership with Bloomberg 2020” label added to clarify the nature of the content.

In a statement given to TechCrunch, Instagram explained:

Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms. That’s why we have an Ad Library where anyone can see who paid for an ad and why we require creators to disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools. After hearing from multiple campaigns, we agree that there’s a place for branded content in political discussion on our platforms. We’re allowing US-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 Takeaways

Today, more than ever, users crave authentic content – this is especially true with younger generations, who are most likely to be on platforms such as Instagram and closely follow meme and/or influencer accounts. While partnering with influencers can be an effective strategy to boost engagement, if sponsored content comes off as inorganic to users, it can be more harmful than helpful.