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Bloomberg is going after Trump on his home turf: Facebook

Bloomberg spent more than $1 million a day on average during the past two weeks on Facebook, according to data compiled by NBC News.
Image: Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event in Aventura, Fla., on Jan. 26, 2020.
Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event in Aventura, Florida, on Jan. 26, 2020.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Mike Bloomberg is spending so much money on Facebook ads that he has surpassed President Donald Trump, the reigning king of the social media realm.

Bloomberg, the billionaire media magnate and former mayor of New York, has been pouring millions of dollars into Facebook and its sibling app, Instagram, since he jumped into the Democratic presidential race, easily outpacing the Trump campaign, according to Facebook data compiled by NBC News.

Bloomberg spent more than $1 million a day on average over the past two weeks on Facebook. That's five times more than Trump spent during the same period — and more than three times what Trump spent per day during his victorious fall 2016 campaign.

On a single day, Jan. 30, Bloomberg bought $1.7 million worth of Facebook ads, signaling just how much he's willing to put his wealth behind his long-shot bid.

"His campaign budget is virtually limitless, so he has the luxury of being able to engage on all of the campaign battlefronts," said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic political consultant in Miami who is not working for a presidential candidate this year.

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Bloomberg, with an estimated net worth of around $61 billion, said after the muddled results from the Iowa caucuses that he would ramp up his budget for ads and staff. He's focused on the dozen-plus states that will cast votes on Super Tuesday, March 3, which is reflected in his Facebook spending.

He's spent about $5 million to reach Facebook users in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, along with other states, including Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, where he is also spending big on Facebook.

And Bloomberg is paying for ads in Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, which vote later in March.

Facebook is generally considered Trump's home turf when it comes to campaign advertising. His campaign invested heavily in the power of the social media network to microtarget voters by location, interests and other factors during the 2016 election. He ran "the single best digital ad campaign I've ever seen," Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth said later.

Trump spent $44 million on Facebook advertising during the last five months of the 2016 race, or around $2 million a week, according to an internal Facebook report obtained in 2018 by Bloomberg News. And for his re-election, he chose as his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, who ran his internet operation four years ago.

In a sense, Trump has a four-year head start on the Democrats, and his style sometimes seems like a natural fit for social media.

"Part of the reason I think Trump has been successful on Facebook is he knows how to engage and entertain users. He knows how to use humor and drama in ways that a lot of traditional politicians struggle with," said Tim Cameron, a Republican political consultant who's not involved on the presidential level this year.

"You have to elicit some sort of emotion — whether that's laughter or sadness, anger or elation — to really have people engage with your content on social media," he said.

By contrast, Bloomberg tends to play things safe, Cameron said, even if he did build a media company and get elected mayor three times. "All these things can't be discounted," he said.

While Bloomberg has already shown a willingness to spend big on television, his campaign staffing has made it clear that the online world is a priority. Bloomberg's digital operation, Hawkfish, is stacked with Silicon Valley veterans, including former longtime Facebook chief marketing officer Gary Briggs and Jeff Glueck, former CEO of the location-tracking company Foursquare. Bloomberg's campaign asked hundreds of tech leaders on a conference call Monday to send him even more of their colleagues, Recode reported.

The scale of what the Bloomberg campaign is doing on Facebook already bests the operations of some Fortune 100 companies, said Nick Venezia, managing director of Social Outlier, a marketing agency in Los Angeles that specializes in data-driven campaigns.

Venezia said the amount Bloomberg is spending could have an impact on the Trump campaign.

"He's going to be taking eyeballs away from Trump. He's making it so that he's pushing him out of the auction," he said. Ads on Facebook are sold in real-time auctions, with the winner chosen based on several factors, including bids and what a Facebook user wants to see.

The goal with online ads isn't always to win people's hearts and minds, experts said. Sometimes it's to raise money, find volunteers, gather email addresses or give existing supporters the ammunition to talk up a candidate to friends and family.

Bloomberg jumped into the race in November, so he's had less time than his Democratic rivals to do all those things before Super Tuesday.

But he's got a shot at catching up, because Facebook, despite its problems, is still where most Americans spend time. And he has the cash to buy a lot of ads there.

"Most campaigns are a series of difficult decisions on resource allocation and making very strategic decisions about what you're going to strengthen and what your weaknesses are going to be," Cameron said. "Bloomberg doesn't have to make those decisions."

It remains to be seen how the buttoned-up former mayor will fare on social media, an arena that favors unscripted moments, outrage, inside jokes and memes.

Facebook ads barely existed the last time Bloomberg ran for office — his third mayoral run in 2009. Ads didn't come to the Facebook news feed until 2012.

And his biggest internet moment so far this election may have been one he didn't intend: his greeting of a dog by the snout.

"Trump will be more aggressive and more cutthroat with his campaigns. Bloomberg's going to come more from a good place and not be as dirty," Venezia said.

On Facebook, he added, "it's a lot easier to get people to jump behind a negative message than a positive one."

Joe Murphy contributed.