7 minutes read

At the end of September, TikTok announced that it has more than 1 billion monthly active users, so 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. 

Here’s how it went.    

TL;DR

  • 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.

    1. Overview
    2. Hypothesis
    3. Results
    4. Observations
    5. Final thoughts

tiktok ad vs. instagram reels ad case study infographic creatopy

1. 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.

@creatopyWondering what Creatopy is? 💭😉 ##meetus ##addesign ##addesigntool ##collaboration ##designautomation ##creativeteams ##creatopy ##createatscale ##brandkit♬ original sound – creatopy

In the table below, you can see the full setup for the two ad campaigns, including the objective, daily budget, total spend, landing page used, location targeting, age, and details about the ad.

We also added a custom frequency cap to avoid ad fatigue, which meant limiting how often our ad would be shown to a person from our target audience. We did this because we didn’t want our video ad to be intrusive and to bore people who are constantly seeing it.

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 targeting methods are much broader on TikTok than they are on Instagram Reels, which is why we could only use interest targeting, and even that was limited to only a few options. There was also the alternative of retargeting users who interacted with our ad, but this wasn’t relevant for our top-of-the-funnel campaign. We would have definitely used this option for a remarketing campaign. 

In terms of audience, apart from targeting users in the 25-44 age group, we also aimed for people interested in education, technology, or apps, for both platforms, even if this meant we had to choose a broader audience on Instagram Reels.  

TikTok Instagram Reels
Objective Reach Reach
Daily budget $50 $50
Total spend $1,000.28 $1,011.01
Landing page https://www.creatopy.com/ https://www.creatopy.com/
Location United States United States
Age 25-44 25-44
Custom frequency cap 1 impression/2 days 1 impression/2 days
Ad copy Wondering what Creatopy is? 💭😉 #meetus #addesign #addesigntool #collaboration #designautomation #creativeteams #creatopy #createatscale #brandkit Wondering what Creatopy is? 💭😉 #meetus #addesign #addesigntool #collaboration #designautomation #creativeteams #creatopy #createatscale #brandkit
Call to action button Learn more Learn more

I have two important mentions to make about setting up the ad campaigns.

On TikTok, you cannot create an ad that’s separate from your posts. This means that, after you connect your TikTok Business Account to Ads Manager, you can choose your ad only from the videos you use as TikTok posts. The ad will also have the same caption as your post, so you won’t be able to personalize it. That being said, when you post on TikTok, be mindful of your caption because you may use it for a future ad as well. 

When doing the setup for Instagram Reels, you need to choose Manual Placements and then select Instagram Reels so that your ad will show as an Instagram Reels ad.

2. 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.” 

3. Results 

Metric TikTok Instagram Reels
Reach 199,477 389,298
Impressions 228,537 604,350
Cost/1,000 people reached $5.03 $2.60
Clicks 28 36
CTR 0.01% 0.01%
CPC $35.72 $28.08
CPM $4.38 $1.67

Clearly, Instagram Reels is the winner here. 

via GIPHY

The biggest difference was in terms of reach and impressions. With the same daily budget and frequency cap, the reach on Instagram Reels was almost double, and the impressions almost triple than on TikTok.

Instagram Reels performed better in terms of costs as well. It cost us $2.60 to reach 1,000 people, as opposed to $5.03 on TikTok. 

Our video ad received more clicks on Instagram Reels. Here we measured all the clicks that we got for each ad.

In Facebook Ads Manager, we can distinguish between link clicks, which represent the number of clicks on the link associated with the ad (on or off Facebook), and clicks on the ad that don’t necessarily lead to a landing page view. 

In TikTok Ads Manager, we couldn’t find the link clicks metrics, so we had to compare the number of clicks we received for the ads.

Due to the high number of impressions and the low number of clicks, the cost per click turned out to be quite high on both platforms—$35.72 on TikTok and $28.08 on Instagram Reels. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that the main goal of our campaign was brand awareness, so we didn’t draw our conclusions based on this metric.

There’s a significant difference in the CPM as well, with TikTok being more expensive ($4.38) than Instagram Reels ($1.67).

Locations 

We targeted the United States, and we wanted to see which states are the most popular as far as impressions are concerned for each platform.

Instagram Reels:

State Impressions
California 114,318
Texas 56,153
Florida 39,543
New York 36,902
Pennsylvania 21,090

TikTok:

State Impressions
California 53,556
Texas 29,907
Florida 13,796
New York 12,038
Ohio 8,098

As we can see, the top states with the highest reach are almost identical on both platforms. We had wide exposure in California, Texas, and Florida, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. CA, TX, FL, NY are the biggest states in terms of population, so it makes sense why they were the top ones.

*Note: We wanted to mention an issue we faced after the first day of going live with our experiment. On TikTok, our ad got disapproved because the landing page dedicated to this campaign did not contain the privacy policy and contact information part. We had to update the landing page and then restart the ad. During that period, we paused the Instagram Reels ad campaign as well for our ads to run simultaneously. Interestingly, we used the same landing page for other advertising platforms as well, but it didn’t get disapproved before. So it seems that TikTok has stricter policies in that sense. Still, just to keep the variables identical, we changed the landing page on Instagram as well.

4. Observations

Organic content boost

On TikTok, we noticed something rather interesting. Shortly before we uploaded the video we used for the ad, we added another video to our profile, which wasn’t as promotional and had a more human approach. This was actually the first video we uploaded to TikTok, so feel free to check it out.

In the first few days, this video gained a small number of views. However, after we started our ad campaign, the number of views on the first video exploded, reaching over 100k users. This can be an indirect influence of the promoted ad, resulting in a boost for the other content we uploaded to our profile.

Age group theory

We kept thinking about how Instagram Reels could perform, and none of us could anticipate that. So I did some digging about the user base for each platform. More specifically, I looked at the age groups.

This is what I found.

There is a visible difference between TikTok’s US users and Instagram’s US users when it comes to age distribution.

We targeted the 25-44 age group, and we’re well aware that TikTok generally has a younger user base, even compared to Instagram. Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, has even said that Instagram users are aging slowly but surely.

So our theory is that we could potentially attribute the Instagram Reels ad’s success to the fact that we had a larger pool of users we could target than TikTok.

It’s not something we can confirm or say for sure, but it’s definitely an idea worth mentioning.

Better reach on Instagram Reels

By analyzing all the key metrics, we can conclude that, for the same budget, Instagram Reels ads are a much better option, both in terms of reach and costs.

This was our first ad campaign on Instagram Reels and TikTok, so we cannot compare the results with anything else we’ve done.  Even so, it was clear to us that we could reach a much larger audience on Instagram with the same budget.

No conversions

Although we set up the campaigns for brand awareness, we still wanted to check whether we got any conversions or view-through conversions. The answer is no, which is not surprising since the campaigns were focused on getting us brand exposure. So from this perspective, none of the platforms exceeded our expectations.

5. Final Thoughts 

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.

Given TikTok’s popularity and continued growth, we were pretty sure that it would blow Instagram Reels out of the water. But exactly the opposite ended up happening. 

There are a lot of factors to consider when comparing two platforms, even when you use the same ad.

However, it’s not recommended to run the same ad because you need to think about each platform’s characteristics and user behavior to create relevant content. According to a recent study, TikTok is perceived as a place for authenticity, joy, and discovery. So when you create a TikTok ad, you have to take this insight into account. On Instagram, on the other hand, users are used to seeing ads, so there’s a higher chance that they’ll engage with one. 

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

For us, Instagram Reels outperformed TikTok, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we may get the same results if we were to perform the same experiment but with a different ad. So we’ll definitely keep an open mind whenever we do these types of things.

Now I want to hear from you.

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.

    14 Comments

    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!

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