2 minutes read

At the end of September, TikTok announced that it has more than 1 billion monthly active users. This means that you can reach a large pool of consumers on the For You page through TikTok Ads.  

On the other hand, Instagram surpassed 1 billion MAUs in 2018 and has over 500 million daily active users. While we don’t know how many people use Instagram Reels, we do know that its popularity continues to grow. 

This is confirmed by the fact that, in June 2021, Instagram introduced Reels ads

Since these two formats are rivals, we thought it would be a good idea to test their performance when it comes to exposure and brand awareness. For this, we ran similar video ad campaigns on the two platforms and had the same ad spend. 

Experiment Overview

At the start of the experiment, we had over 5.5k followers on Instagram and only a handful on TikTok because the profile was created just a few days prior.

The two ads ran on TikTok and Instagram Reels from September 14, 2021, to October 5, 2021. 

We used the same ad, a 15-second product presentation video, and the same ad copy.

In terms of audience targeting, we created the same setup for both platforms. This was extremely important because we needed to have the exact same variables to draw a clear conclusion. 

The Hypothesis 

We couldn’t help but debate internally which platform would win this experiment. 

The PPC team agreed that TikTok will turn out victorious, mainly because this short-form video sharing platform drives engagement like no other. We believed that this would lead users to interact with ads more frequently.

Andreea Mehedin, Social Media Manager at Creatopy, placed the bet on TikTok as well, saying, “Considering TikTok’s success, evolution, and virality, I guessed that the ad would perform better on this platform. And I must mention I am a big fan of Instagram among all social media platforms.”

Download here the TikTok Ads vs. Instagram Reels ads case study to read the in-depth results and learn about the four interesting observations we had regarding the age group theory, organic boost, conversions, and reach. 

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • The Instagram Reels ad performed way better than the TikTok Ad in terms of reach and impressions.
  • The Instagram Reel ad had almost double the reach and approximately three times the number of impressions compared to the TikTok Ad.
  • The TikTok Ad cost us more in terms of CPC, CPM, and cost per 1,000 people reached.

When you’re doing experiments with online advertising, the final results may surprise you. Just like we were surprised after we collected all the data from the two platforms.

It’s important to draw some conclusions but not to get too stuck on them. 

Have you ever done similar experiments? If the answer is yes, what did you learn from them?

Csilla Borsos
PPC Specialist, nature lover, bicycle rider, overthinker. But first of all, human.


    1. 60% of tiktok users are between the ages of 16-24. If you did the same ad buy but focusing on that age group, it’d be a fair comparison.

    2. Hi, Patrick. The percentage of TikTok users aged 16-24 is probably somewhere around 40%. I added the most recent resources around this in the article. But I can agree with you that we would have probably had different results if we targeted younger TikTok users (we even added a section in the case study explaining this possibility). The reason why we didn’t do this is because our target audience does not fall in that age group, so it wouldn’t have helped our campaign.

    3. So, with no conversions to speak of, can you observe any other, measurable benefit of running this campaign? I realize you mentioned “brand awareness”, but I am not sure what brand awareness you can achieve with a cap of 1 impression. Have you just burned through 2000 dollars, and the only ones to benefit are TikTok and Instagram? Or is there some outcome that you’re happy about?

    4. Hi! I’d like to mention that we did not add a frequency cap of 1 impression/user for the whole duration of the campaign. Indeed, we added a custom frequency cap (1 impression every 2 days/user) so that the users don’t keep seeing our ad until they get annoyed by them.

      As far as the outcome is concerned, first of all we wanted to see which platform helps our brand get more visibility for the same budget. Instagram Reels won and we reached almost 400,000 users.

      Another outcome we noticed – and didn’t expect – was that on TikTok, our organic video exploded in views once we started promoting the paid video as well. This is also a win for us, since our account on this platform was new and our brand wasn’t known yet, it didn’t have followers or video views.

      Last but not least, we as advertisers want to be up-to-date with everything that is new in this field, so we wanted to test the paid version of Instagram Reels and TikTok as well, and we’re planning on running further experiments anytime an opportunity arises.

    5. Good post. Thanks for sharing.

      In my opinion, the Facebook algorithm is one of the best due to the simple fact that the meta’s team had over 18 years of time to iterate and test what works the best from a business and consumer perspective.

      While tic-tok has done great from a reach perspective, the platform is still miles off when it comes to serving ads esp those that give good ROI.

      It goes without saying, Facebook ad algorithm is superior.

    6. Thank you for your insight! Indeed, Facebook/Meta’s team had years and years to enhance their algorithm, so I understand that it gives us, advertisers, better credibility than the newer platforms. I agree that TikTok is a great option to reach your audience, but indeed, when it comes to ROI, I think we’ll need to wait and see how things will turn out for this platform that gained huge popularity in such a short time.
      Let’s not forget though, that raising brand awareness is a crucial first step in the advertising journey.:)

    7. Hi! Anna, paid media strategist from Spain here :) Great experiment, definitely a few interesting insights in here. Just a question: you mentioned TikTok doesn’t allow to promote videos that are outside those already uploaded organically? Not sure why, we run auction based campaigns on TikTok with several ads posted on dark all the time, outside of our organic videos.
      Also, regarding the “explosion” of the organic video on TikTok once you started promoting, couldn’t this be the result of said promotion? Since you’re boosting an organic video like you mentioned, the video began performing better thanks to the boost. When you boost an organic video, the results generated thanks to the paid promotion are seen on your feed. It doesn’t create two separate videos.

      Tip: we found that competition on organic boosted videos con TikTok is tougher than using dark posting ads, oustide from the feed. Perhaps comparing the performance of both platforms outside organic would be more realistic.

      Again, thanks so much for conducting the experiment!

    8. Hi there, have you got a link to where we can watch the video that was the ad?

      Our observations as an agency are that, particularly on TikTok, ads that look like ads perform terribly. They need to look like a normal TikTok else users will very very quickly scroll past – the TikTok thumbs are fast! If they can tell it’s an ad in the first 0.5 seconds then that’s it. Bad performance.

      The same is somewhat true for Insta reels but not by the same margin.

      TikTokkers hate ads, so ads have to be created in a TikTok fun style to even be slightly successful.

    9. Hi, Anna! Thank you for your feedback. I’m glad you found some interesting insights in the case study that will hopefully help you as well. Regarding your mention with the TikTok ads that are not organic: as far as I know, that can only be possible if you don’t link your account with TikTok for Business. We wanted to do that, so that after people see our ad, they can go to our profile.
      That organic “view explosion” we mentioned was different from the video we promoted. It was the first organic post on our TikTok profile. Then, we uploaded the promotional video and that was the one that we boosted. However, after some time, we noticed that the first video we uploaded (and didn’t boost) exploded in views, which we believe is an indirect result of the promoted product video ad.
      I’d like to mention that both our TikTok post (the one that we boosted) and the Reels post was promoted. I’d also like to thank you for your valuable insight!

    10. Hi, Jessi! You can find the embedded video at the beginning of the article (after the Overview subtitle.)

      Indeed, it is a product video that wasn’t the best format for the TikTok platform. I totally agree with you on TikTok users not liking ads. That is why we will continue to run in-house experiments with versions that look more organic and more human-friendly. Thank you for your tips & tricks!

    11. Hi there, very interesting.
      What about VCR ?

    12. Hello! That’s a very great question that I just investigated more thoroughly. The VCR, or Video Completion Rate for Reels was much better than on TikTok. On Instagram Reels, The Video Plays at 100% was 1,432, while on TikTok only 772; this was somehow expected since our ad was a product video and from this viewpoint, the audience on Reels was more perceptive to our promotional material.

    13. Hi! I’m a social media advertiser and recently started the journey with TikTok advertising too. It takes around 3 weeks of learning before TikTok has collected enough data to get you the best results. So TikTok is definitely for those who have a longer breath. Also, the best practice is creating ads that feel native to the platform. That means creating content that is entertaining and inspiring. Good luck!

    14. Thank you for the insightful comment, we are planning on doing another experiment with a video that is more suitable for TikTok, just as you said, using an ad that is native. I’m really curious about those results!

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    You may also like

    More in Studies