October 3, 2020 | technology | No Comments
- Allan Maman, a 21-year-old who didn’t go to college, is the brainchild behind many of the memes used by the presidential campaigns of Andrew Yang and Mike Bloomberg.
- Maman’s work included an ‘AirPod’ meme for Yang and a Democratic debate meme for Bloomberg.
- In an interview with Business Insider, Maman revealed his career in meme-making, and how it started with cold emails.
- Maman also got an assist from contacts dating to his days as a fidget-spinner entrepreneur, he says.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Years ago, Allan Maman used to be known for co-inventing the fidget spinner. But that was before the now 21-year-old took the digital reins of first Andrew Yang and then Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaigns.
It’s been quite a journey for the young man from Westchester County, New York. But strangely enough, the first business led quite directly to the second, totally different one.
“The connections I got from the fidget spinner business, I was able to utilize into actually making it easier to buy ads on meme pages for politicians,” Maman told Business Insider.
Basically, Maman explains, when he had first launched his fidget spinner business, he would buy what were, at the time, “cheap” ads on Instagram meme pages to market his product to the masses. This was in 2017, when, for example, he would spend about $40 for an influencer ad post on a certain Instagram page dedicated to memes, estimating this would bring in about $2,000 in sales.
Years later, Maman brought this strategy — and those meme accounts — to politics. It began when he realized in September 2018 that Andrew Yang was going to run for president. Maman said he was inspired as an Asian American that another might actually have a chance at getting elected, and sent cold emails to Yang’s presidential team, offering to help with the campaign’s social strategy.
After Yang’s team agreed, Maman showed up at the campaign offices in New York City not even three hours after sending the initial email.
“I wasn’t even really looking to make money from it. It was more, ‘Hey, how can I help you,'” Maman said. “Yang’s team was a startup. And they were like, ‘Allan, we need help blowing up online. You have to figure out how to do that.'”
Maman helped to grow Yang’s social media presence by buying ads on Instagram meme pages
Maman’s first task was simple: Get enough traction so Yang would qualify for the debates.
For his Instagram strategy, Maman said he went back to the business connections he made during his fidget spinner heyday to help advertise Yang on the social platform. But he said a few things had changed since he first started buying ads on the platform in 2017.
For starters, the same brands that had once charged $40 to post on pages were now charging thousands of dollars. Today, a page that has about 14 million followers could charge about $2,500 for a 24-hour advertisement, and a page with 10 million followers would charge anywhere from $1,000 to $40,000 for a permanent post, he said.
Maman said he and the Yang campaign spent almost $600,000 in Facebook ads that led to about $2 million in campaign donations.
The best part about working for Yang, Maman said, was that he was a “blank slate” — a political hopeful with no heavy baggage, that allowed Maman to really experiment with memes and content without much internet blowback. For example, the Yang team took a tweet posted by the financial news site CNBC and “quote-tweeted it,” writing a caption above the initial tweet with a self-deprecating joke.
“We quoted it with a weird caption, like a funny caption,” Maman continued. “And basically we were just writing the caption as an ad. But the thing that was cool was that people thought that it was an ad from CNBC.”
Maman said his memes and snap comebacks on Twitter helped Yang get a brand as the “non-serious politician.”
“All the ads we ran on Facebook were basically just clips of him from podcasts instead of, like, the typical politician ad,” he said. “And those performed really well.”
‘I had to watch interviews … I had to do a whole bunch of due diligence.’
Maman decided in March 2019, right in the middle of Yang’s presidential campaign, that he was ready to move on. The presidential hopeful had gotten the traction Maman wanted to achieve, and he was ready to take on his next presidential campaign.
“My friend and I were reading online about how Bloomberg was running for president and was committing, like, $1 billion,” Maman said. “That’s a lot of money.”
Maman said he and his friend were able to track down the personal email of Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s global head of communications, government relations, and marketing, who also served as campaign manager during the billionaire’s presidential run. Maman said he messaged Sheekey’s email account, pretending to have already been acquainted with him in the past.
“My friend, who has no affiliation and who does not know Kevin Sheekey at all, literally made a group chat saying, ‘Kevin, introducing you to my friend, Allan, Allan did the stuff for Yang,'” Maman said.
Sheekey ended up seeing the message, and responded to it by saying, “let me know how to best connect.”
“That’s how I got the intro,” Maman said.
After officially joining the Bloomberg team, Maman joined Bloomberg’s political data and technology-based firm Hawkfish, where he remains a marketing advisor. Maman said his first task working with Bloomberg was to study the history of who Mike Bloomberg was — and figure out what memes would work for the 78-year-old billionaire.
“I had to watch his interviews,” Maman said. “I had to do a whole bunch of due diligence.”
A shining moment for both Maman and Bloomberg was after the Democratic debate in which Bloomberg participated. Maman edited a video of Bloomberg onstage asking, “I’m the only one here that’s ever started a business. Is that right?”
During the debate, that moment was followed by a short pause and Bloomberg continuing speaking. In the edited video, however, the other candidates were shown standing, some looking confused, at their podiums, as the sound of crickets surrounded them. The video went viral almost instantly.
“Even people that were anti-Bloomberg or anti-or pro-Trump were tweeting, ‘Oh this is actually a funny meme,'” Maman said.
Due to rule changes on both Instagram and Facebook, Maman had to disclose whether or not a post was sponsored. He said he found a way to also use this to the candidate’s advantage, too. For example, he used a famous Spongebob meme to make fun of the fact that the meme itself was simply a sponsored ad. “It’s definitely trying to find the fine line between cringe and between subtle,” he said.
‘I think it’s really cool that we kind of started political memes.’
Maman never went to college and has no plans to ever enroll. “I don’t consider myself book-smart,” he said. Instead, he says he is focused on his new business endeavor — Glowless, patches that go on the face before drinking and that help prevent redness, what Maman calls “Asian glow.”
Maman launched Glowless in September 2019 but said the company really started the year before and was held up with the usual business launch issues: Trying to bring his products into production, going through multiple rounds of testing, working with suppliers.
Eventually, it all paid off, and Maman said he had made almost $100,000 in sales in just six months before he had to pause all advertising in February due to the pandemic.
“It’s a pretty niche product. Only a certain amount of people get ‘Asian glow,'” he said. “I think my plan after November is to do a bit of soul-searching. Maybe try to find some problems and allocate some sort of solutions towards them.”
And as for his political meme career, Maman isn’t so sure he will ever go back to it after the November election. Sure, his memes caused a sizeable impact online, garnering write-ups in The Atlantic and shoutouts from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. But he said he’s not sure if politics is something he wants to commit his life to just yet.
“I think it’s really cool that we kind of started political memes,” he said. “There’s no doubt that Trump’s organic meme game is on point, and I don’t think Democrats were doing any memes at all until we started with Yang. Or if they were, they were probably really bad.”
He did say, however, that if brands are looking to hire a meme-maker to help with future elections, that meme-maker better be a member of Gen Z. He also said TikTok is the new political frontier — the place where everyone should be trying to connect with the next generation.
“TikTok is going to be one of the biggest — it’s going to be the Instagram of political messages,” he said. “Without a doubt, I think that’s already happening now.”