Earlier this week, a photo of Selena Gomez became the most popular photo on Instagram, boasting 4.4 million likes and more than 170,000 comments. And while Instagram has long existed as a platform for shameless, selfie-driven self-promotion, the new benchmark is less a win for the 23-year-old Gomez, and more a sign of the success Coca-Cola is achieving with its sly, new marketing techniques.
The photo, which pictures the smoky-eyed singer sipping a bottle of soda through a red and white straw, is part of the company’s “Share a Coke and a Song” campaign. The bottle features the words “You’re the spark” across its label—a line from the star’s 2015 single “Me and the Rhythm”—and the photo is captioned by Gomez herself. “When your lyrics are on the bottle,” she wrote, adding a casual emoji with its tongue sticking out.
While Coke is putting lyrics from more than 70 songs on its products this summer—including rhymes from rappers like 2Pac, Missy Elliott, and J. Cole on cans of Sprite—the decision to partner with Gomez in particular is no accident.
Gomez is already the most followed personality on Instagram, and another photo of the singer, one in which she could be seen kissing ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber, was previously the most-liked photo on the social networking site. By collaborating with Gomez, Coke secured the ability to reach her 89.9 million followers in an incredibly subtle and native way.
Though the line between sponsored and unsponsored content has always been especially murky on Instagram (we all remember when Scott Disick was caught red handed while shilling for a weight loss company called “Bootea”), Gomez holding her coke, and the undeniable allure of the photo, has broken new ground.
The picture is undeniably an advertisement—and Gomez had shared videos of herself traipsing around the Coke headquarters before dropping the post—but do fans really care about the methodology as long as they’re able to see a stunning photo of their favorite artist?
Gomez, for her part, insists her Instagram presence is genuine, and that she doesn't employ a social media consultant.
"It wasn't my goal to be the most followed person," Gomez told the Hollywood Reporter this week. "I try to find a good balance of just being 100 percent myself and knowing when to post a really good selfie with good lighting.”
“It's my favorite social platform,” she added.