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Inside Instagram’s Secret Barter Economy

Influencers swap photos for helicopter rides and champagne

An Instagram user pushed a budget Mercedes model to young buyers.

Instagram is quietly becoming a platform for an underground barter economy where posts are swapped for goods and services from high-end brands hoping to attract millennials and cashed-up consumers.

Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Dom Pérignon are just three of the luxury brands to strike deals with influential Instagrammers because of the visual marketing clout of the photo posting site, reports The New York Times.

Mercedes USA, for example, wanted to push its budget CLA model to young consumers, so the automaker turned to 28-year-old Nikoletta Csanyi, who won the $29,000 car in a contest.

Mercedes handed over the car keys because Ms. Csanyi agreed to drive her new car on a three-day road trip to Washington, D.C., and post pictures of the CLA with the @mbusa caption and hashtag: #Clatakethewheel. The posts received about 3,400 “likes.”

The manager of Mercedes USA digital marketing told the Times that Instagrammers are far more approachable than celebrities, so the photos carry more credibility with young consumers.

Here are three other examples of how Instagram’s hidden economy works:

  • Champagne maker Dom Pérignon reportedly gave advertising exec Jason Petersen a first-class ticket to Iceland and $15,000 in spending money in exchange for four photos on his Instagram feed, which has more than 315,000 followers.
  • Freelance cityscape photographer Alina Tsvor reportedly struck a deal with Chicago Helicopter Experience after sending the company an email promising at least one photo taken with her iPhone, captioned with the company’s name. The 24-year-old freelancer, who has 55,000 Instagram followers, parlayed the deal into free chopper rides for her friends as well.
  • Another helicopter company, Blade, struck a deal with New York Maserati dealers to chauffeur its well-heeled customers to Long Island when bad weather grounded its flights to the Hamptons. Many of Blade’s 2,600 followers are wealthy execs from the fashion industry and are able to afford a Maserati. Not a penny was exchanged on the deal.

Luxury fashion house Coach has actually been hiring Instagrammers for the past two years to promote its shoes and handbags. The company’s digital president David Duplantis said, “There is a tremendous amount of authenticity and credibility that these photographers have with their followers.”

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