TikTok Ads vs. Instagram Reels: Which Platform is Best to Advertise Your Business?

TikTok and Instagram Reels have been battling it out for some time. But which is better when it comes to advertising? We performed this experiment to find out.

TikTok Ads vs. Instagram Reels: Which Platform is Best to Advertise Your Business?
Portrait for Diana-Alina AldeaBy Diana-Alina Aldea  |  Updated September 11, 2023

TikTok and Instagram Reels have been battling it out for a while now. TikTok skyrocketed in popularity at the beginning of 2020, reaching 1 billion monthly active users by the end of September. As the collective love for TikTok grew among the public, Instagram introduced Instagram Reels in August, then Instagram Reels ads in 2021. 

While Instagram has enough to brag about – such as its 1 billion MAU, which it reached in 2018, and the 500 million daily active users – it’s safe to say that the platform is taking notes from TikTok. This became even clearer at the beginning of 2022. In a post detailing Instagram’s 2022 priorities, CEO Adam Mosseri announced that the platform will focus more on video and “consolidate all their video formats into Reels.”

Instagram may be learning from TikTok, but is it working? Can Instagram outperform TikTok when it comes to ads? More specifically, do Instagram Reels ads stand a chance against TikTok ads? Creatopy performed two experiments to find out.

TikTok is so popular because it mastered two crucial things: short-form video content and trends.

TikTok is the go-to platform for short-form videos. You can watch 2 or 3 videos tailored to your interests in a single minute thanks to TikTok’s impressive algorithm, giving you a quick bite of entertainment while leaving you hungry for more.

Not only that, but these short-form videos are super straightforward to make. Thanks to TikTok’s massive audio library and easy-to-use editing tool, anyone can make a TikTok and possibly go viral. 

Because these videos are so short and easy to make, trends thrive on TikTok. Anyone can join in on a dance challenge or post a video using a popular song. 

How do TikTok ads work?

Most ads on the platform are in-feed video ads that show up on your FYP just like any regular TikTok, labeled ‘sponsored’ with a CTA button leading to the product’s landing page. 

TikTok also allows you to upload TopView ads; the first videos users see right when they open the app. You use TikTok Ads Manager to choose your campaign objectives, set your budget, and target your audience.

What is Instagram Reels?

An Instagram Reel is a full-screen vertical video that users can upload on their Instagram profiles. It can be anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds long. People can like, share, and comment on the video.

An Instagram Reels ad is just like a regular one, except that it has a ‘sponsored’ label and a CTA that takes you to the product’s landing page.

The First Experiment: The Product Ad

In the first TikTok vs. Instagram Reels case study, the two ads ran on both platforms from September 14, 2021, to October 5, 2021. Both ads contained the same 15-second product presentation video and ad copy. Both ads targeted users between the ages of 25 and 44 living in the USA, specifically aimed at those interested in education, technology, or apps. Their Instagram page already had 5.5k followers, while the TikTok page was just a few days old.

For this experiment, most of the team placed their bets on TikTok and thought Instagram would fall behind. The platform’s undeniable popularity and the mixed opinions about Instagram and its updates made the team believe the former would be the clear winner.

The Instagram Reels ad completely outperformed the TikTok ad regarding everything—reach, clicks, and impressions included. With the same daily budget and frequency cap, the reach on Instagram Reels doubled the one on TikTok, while the impressions tripled it. The Instagram Reels ad cost $2.60 to reach 1,000 people, as opposed to the TikTok ad, which was $5.03. One explanation for this could be the age theory. Since most of TikTok’s users are younger than Creatopy‘s target audience, it makes sense that the ad didn’t reach as many people in the 25-44 age range. Regarding conversions, neither of the two ads managed to convert. Location-wise, both ads received the most impressions from California, Texas, Florida, and New York.

While TikTok’s popularity is undeniable, and there are many benefits to making a TikTok-specific marketing strategy, it’s still worth putting time and effort into creating videos for Instagram Reels. 

The Second Experiment – The Native Ad

For the second TikTok vs. Instagram Reels experiment, the team decided to take a more tailored approach and use a native video ad that feels more at home on TikTok’s For You Page. The TikTok account was also about a year older, which we speculated would give more of a fighting chance against the already-established Instagram page. So, the same 19-second video ad ran on both platforms between January 18, 2022, and Feb 7, 2022, targeting audiences between the ages of 25 and 44 living in the USA. Both ads had the exact same budget and copy. They also had a custom frequency cap of 1 impression per 2 days. Our aim for this experiment? by making the video ad more TikTok-friendly, TikTok will outperform Instagram Reels. 

The results were a lot more balanced than the first experiment. TikTok outperformed Instagram Reels regarding reach and impressions, and the cost per 1,000 people reached was also lower. In terms of clicks, Instagram Reels was the clear winner. However, both ads received a lot more clicks than the first experiment. The CTR mainly stayed the same. The target demographic did not affect the investigation too much, either. While TikTok still has a younger audience, it’s clear the ad still received significant exposure on the platform. This could be because it was a native ad this time. Regarding location, the top five US states that brought the most impressions were the same for both platforms: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Ohio.

The fact that the second experiment used a native ad as opposed to a product ad proves that to run successful ad campaigns on a specific platform, you must tailor your content to it. What works on Instagram Reels will sometimes work differently on TikTok and vice versa. Moreover, a native ad can decrease costs, which is a beacon of hope for marketers who want to spend as little money as possible on advertising. 

Because the content needs to be specifically tailored to the platform, it’s difficult to determine the winner of the experiment. This may sound anticlimactic, but it shows that in advertising, success will look different depending on the platform you are using, the methods, and what you’re trying to achieve. 

The Conclusion

When looking at the two case studies, there is no clear winner. The results were more black-and-white than they were in the first experiment. Many factors can influence the success or failure of a specific ad type on a particular platform. 

But there are a couple of valuable lessons that we, as advertisers and marketers, can draw:

  1. Both Tiktok and Instagram Reels are worth advertising on. If you have the budget, running advertising campaigns on both platforms would be a good idea, as both can deliver stunning results. 
  2. A native approach is advisable. It’s not that product ads don’t have their benefits, but sometimes, native ads work better. They blend in with the platform’s content much more seamlessly, to a point where you might not even realize that you’re watching an ad until you see the Sponsored or Promoted label.
  3. Keep the video ads short. Around 9-15 seconds should be enough. People’s attention span is short, especially on a platform like TikTok or Instagram, which makes it so easy to keep scrolling for more content.
  4. Study the platform and tailor your ad to it. Different platforms with different users will favor different types of ads. For example, an advertisement in which you have a human face in the first few seconds works well on TikTok, but in Instagram Reels, a human touch is optional for the ad to perform well. Consider looking into video marketing trends that you can adapt for exceptional results.

Long story short – Instagram can be just as fruitful for your advertising campaign as TikTok. Whether this has something to do with Instagram trying to be more like TikTok or not – that’s up for debate. 

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