Reels vs TikTok vs Shorts: on which one should you bet for your paid UA campaign?

User Acquisition Campaigns

November 22, 2022

TikTok’s success looks unstoppable. With a growing number of downloads and regular users, the video app grew so much that its direct competitors adopted TikTok-like features in their platforms. 

While video ads are, and have been for some time, a staple of UA campaigns, there’s now more choice than ever on where to advertise your app or mobile game. If you’re looking to advertise on social media platforms, TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts are all relevant solutions. But which one will be the most effective? 

Making the right choice for your app

Although it was possible up until recently to set up video ad campaigns on social media without including TikTok, Reels, or Shorts, it’s not the case anymore. Of course, there are other ad placements (in Meta and YouTube) where you could showcase a video ad, but these three platforms/tools are now an essential part of UA campaigns, especially with the rise of demand for UGC-like video ads.

All three options may look alike but they each have a different impact and audience. 

Of course, the more the merrier. If you’re able to advertise your app on all three platforms (with content created to match these platforms’ expectations and audience) you will have the best possible result. But sometimes, choices need to be made. 

There is no one solution that fits everyone in this situation, each app, and each feature has its own audience, needs, and results and will work best depending on the content you can produce for it and the target you intend to reach.

source: The Graygency

So far, Instagram has the most monthly active users but TikTok is the one that’s growing faster. YouTube Shorts can rely on YouTube’s powerful ad reach and its older audience, as well as the fact that the platform is and always has been about video. 

Whichever platform you end up choosing, they all have their advantages and needs. YouTube will need less adjustment (Google is now even beta-testing an automatic crop of video ads to include on Shorts), but Shorts is yet to be a cultural phenomenon as significant as TikTok or Instagram Reels. TikTok is growing fast and has huge potential for brand awareness and discovery with unique reach, but it only works with video ads tailored to TikTok’s specific audience and content. Meanwhile, Instagram’s ad system is well-oiled and works well with a large audience, and Meta’s advertising system to back it up, but users are still pushing back on the app’s (maybe too) firm push of Reels. 

The first step is to set your campaign’s expectations and KPIs, then figure out which platform is the best to help you reach those goals.  

TikTok ads: the place to be for mobile games and Gen Z

TikTok is a beacon for younger users. Now, 74% of TikTok’s users are under 35. With over a billion monthly active users and a high engagement rate, TikTok is a really interesting place to advertise your app or game. 

Given its newness (and despite its rising popularity), advertisers have been reluctant to try their hands at TikTok advertising at first. This led the platform to boost its advertising options, especially for mobile gaming. With Apple’s ATT still impacting Meta and Snap’s results as well as Twitter’s unstable future, a lot of advertisers are now looking at TikTok for their future UA spending.

Even more so when you take a look at TikTok’s engagement rate, which is extremely high, especially compared with their direct competitors.

source: The platforms’ engagement rate

TikTok’s engagement and thunderous success around the world are great incentives for app developers. It’s a great opportunity for UA campaigns, as long as the video creatives look enough like TikToks. The brand’s motto concerning advertising is: “Make TikToks not ads”.

Because video ads are inserted seamlessly into the scrolling feed of users, the most effective ad campaigns are the ones that don’t look like ads at first glance. 

TikTok can be your UA strategy’s best friend as long as your ad can fit within the app’s organic content. It’s also a great choice for mobile game advertising. Several games (like High Heels or more recently survivor.io have found global success thanks to TikTok campaigns). 

The company’s push into mobile gaming, through advertising opportunities and catering to gaming audiences, makes it a very relevant tool for mobile gaming ad campaigns. 

What works best on TikTok

  • UGC-type ads (for more details on how to take advantage of UGC trends check out our post on the topic)
  • Live-action works best, it fits better in the feed of people’s for you page 
  • Music and voice-over are extremely important, a lot of TikTok’s success relies on its sound use
  • An ad that matches the app’s current trend, which means a quick production of ad creatives
  • Mobile games: TikTok is a great platform to promote mobile games

Instagram Reels: Millennials’ favorite

Instagram is a well-oiled machine that relies on Meta’s strong advertising system. While Reels advertising is still a pretty recent addition to the platform, it’s a format that Instagram has been pushing heavily as of late and with Reels taking more and more space on the platform, it may soon be the most visible type of advertising on Instagram. 

Mark Zuckerberg announced that 20% of users’ time on Instagram was spent scrolling through Reels. A lot of Reels are still reused from TikTok (a lot of TikTokers joke about the fact that TikTok trends show up a few months later on Instagram Reels). 

Reels may still be struggling to catch up with TikTok but it’s still a relevant option. 

The best part about Reels is that it can fit seamlessly into a more general Meta ad campaign, with static creatives in the feed or Stories. Users who use both Facebook and Instagram can even encounter them on both networks, improving brand recall. 

Meta’s ad system has also been in place for a few years already and has been working pretty well for advertisers in the past. Instagram’s user base is more steady than TikTok’s (who’s growing very rapidly but is still pretty recent). However, Meta got hit hard by ATT so targeting may not be as efficient now. 

Instagram Reels is not having results as good as TikTok so far in terms of usage, but it’s a safer option for advertising with a more feminine, slightly older user base that is more used to ad presence. 

For example, Creatopia’s case study shows better results with the same campaign launched on both Reels and TikTok.

However, a campaign that works on one platform may not be a good fit for another one, each one having a different audience. Also, the brand had an already established Instagram account, with a strong presence which can add some brand awareness. The TikTok account used was brand new. 

What works best on Instagram:

  • Aesthetic content, your ad needs to look nice enough to be taken seriously on this medium
  • Using relevant or trendy audio sounds (it also improves the ad’s visibility)
  • Authenticity and honesty
  • Focus on building brand image and awareness
  • Captions in videos
  • Content that feels organic and looks like regular Reels content
  • Dynamic and informative content
  • Behind the scenes and explainers
  • Short ad copy directly showing on the video

YouTube Shorts: Google’s latest tool

YouTube Shorts is Google’s answer to TikTok’s success. The new tab can be found in the YouTube app and on the website. Now every vertical video shared on YouTube is being turned into a Shorts automatically. 

According to Google, YouTube Shorts receive 15 billion daily views, which is quite a feat. The feature definitely takes advantage of its connection to YouTube and the fact that over 70% of YouTube’s watch time happens on mobile. 

Shorts has the lowest engagement rate of all three and is globally less used than both Reels and TikTok. However, the feature’s best success rate seems to be in countries where TikTok has been banned.

Google is already planning to boost Shorts’ ad option, first with a new creator fund that rewards shorts creators to drive more attention and engagement, but also they are testing an automatic crop of YouTube ads to show them in Shorts in the best format (portrait). 

It currently isn’t easy to create ads solely for Shorts however, it can be included in a YouTube ad campaign. 

Unless you are in a region where TikTok is not available, Shorts is more, so far, an extra tool to a general YouTube or Google ad campaign. Or if your audience matches better with YouTube’s user base. Shorts is not as successful and culturally relevant as Reels and TikTok just yet, it also is more recent so it still has time to grow. 

What works best on YouTube Shorts

  • YouTube Shorts is extremely successful in countries where TikTok is banned like India for example, if you’re targeting this locale, it might be a great choice for you
  • Short videos, YouTube Shorts has not yet extended the length of its videos unlike Instagram and TikTok
  • A strong call to action

The best choice depends on what you’re looking for

The best option is to create a video ad according to the platform you’re targeting. However, it’s always possible to reuse an ad, it would be better to create an ad for TikTok which has the most specific needs in terms of relevant content, and then bring it to either Reels (to complete an Instagram UA strategy) or Shorts. 

More channels means more opportunities, but each one will bring its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Both Reels and Short rely on stronger ad systems (Meta and Google) and already have a solid user base, but TikTok is more culturally relevant with a role of trendsetting that keeps growing online. 

Set your expectations first, then you can look into which platform will be the more appropriate to help you achieve them.

Marine Nozerand

Hi there, I'm Marine (she/her), I'm a Content Manager at Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.).
Marine Nozerand

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