If you’d searched Google for “Democratic debate” ahead of Wednesday’s highly anticipated candidate face-off, there’s a good chance the top result would have been not the event itself but instead a link to Mike Bloomberg’s website.
It wasn’t an accident. Instead, it was another sign of the billionaire media mogul’s willingness to pay for prime advertising real estate at a key moment in the 2020 race: Bloomberg’s first time on the debate stage, where the fireworks with other candidates made it the most-watched Democratic primary debate ever.
Bloomberg is spending vastly more than his rivals for advertising on Google, the most-used search engine, and on Google-owned YouTube, according to data from the company analyzed by NBC News.
It’s all part of a massive marketing campaign designed to catch up to his Democratic rivals, even as it may give ammunition to their complaint that Bloomberg is trying to buy the presidency.
Bloomberg has spent more than $41 million on Google and YouTube ads since he entered the race late in November, the data shows, more than 10 times what Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., his closest rival in spending among the major candidates, bought over the same period.
In one week in January, Bloomberg outspent former vice president Joe Biden nearly60-to-1 on advertisements on Google and YouTube, paying the tech company $6.2 million while Biden spent $109,000 to try to reach many of the same moderate Democratic voters.
Bloomberg has similarly outspent the other candidates and President Donald Trump on television, Facebook and organization. Bloomberg’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission said the former New York City mayor spent about $464 million in December and January, or more than $7 million per day on average.
The value of buying ads on Google is that marketers know they’re targeting a curious audience that might be persuadable, said Stephen Puetz, a Republican political consultant who’s not affiliated with a presidential campaign.
“A lot of voters don’t do more research, but if they do, they go to Google,” Puetz said. “Anyone who’s typing in something about a political issue or the presidential race, it means they’re open to more information.”
Bloomberg’s spending also comes as other Democratic campaigns run short on cash.
Bloomberg’s marketing budget is effectively limitless so far, and unheard of in politics. Through his own digital company named Hawkfish, he’s hired senior executives from the ad world including the former North America CEO of major ad firm GroupM.
In some weeks, Bloomberg has spent more than $750,000 a day on average on Google and YouTube ads — approaching what he spends on Facebook, the other big platform for political ads online.
Several of Bloomberg’s ads received more than 10 million impressions, including a Google search ad saying “tweeting is not leading,” an apparent shot at Trump.
Trump has spent $1.7 million on Google and YouTube ads since Bloomberg began spending. And his campaign is preparing to swamp YouTube on Election Day, having already purchased space atop the website for early November, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
The campaigns are spending big on the search engine and video site despite a change that Google announced in November that threatened the usefulness of running political ads. The company said advertisers could no longer target election ads with data such as public voter records and political affiliations.
Much of Bloomberg’s spending is on “persuasion” advertising, designed to bring voters to his side, rather than fundraising or email collection, according to research firm Advertising Analytics. Of all Bloomberg’s online spending, 43 percent is aimed at persuasion, compared to 7 percent of Sanders’ online spending, the firm said.
“As a self funding billionaire he does not, at least in theory, need to generate grassroots donations,” Ben Taber, an analyst at the firm, said of Bloomberg.