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[Case Study] TikTok Ads vs. Instagram Reels Ads: Which Performs Better?

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.    


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

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
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
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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. 


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).


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


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?

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