Instagram’s new feature ‘Reels’, rolled out at the beginning of this month, is a fairly unsubtle attempt to mimic video-sharing app TikTok. Reels mirrors TikTok’s short video lengths, continuous scroll, and ability to add licensed music over the top of clips.
Brands are experimenting with Reels in its early days too. But most seem to be testing the waters, rather than betting big on the new feature.
For a start, Reels unlike TikTok doesn’t have any paid offerings for advertisers yet. So brands are limited to putting out their own content or working with influencers.
And Reels hasn’t been around long enough to develop its own culture or style of content, or a dedicated user based. “It’s going to take time to build the sort of community that TikTok has been celebrated for, and Reels will have to compete with various other TikTok competitors including Triller, Byte and Dubsmash,” said Mary Keane-Dawson, CEO of influencer marketing agency Takumi.
Keane-Dawson said that in this initial experimental period, the most obvious opportunity from brands is simply to repurpose their TikTok content for Reels, expanding its reach and ensuring a multi-channel presence.
So far, this is what most brands using Reels seem to have opted for.
American fast-food brand Chipotle, which has invested heavily on TikTok and built up 1.1 million followers on that platform, has so far put out two Reels. Both of them are reposts of TikToks. Netflix, Red Bull, Monster Energy, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Burger King were among the other brands seen by VAN which have so far stuck to simply reposting TikTok content on Reels.
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A few brands have pulled influencer campaigns originally on TikTok across to Reels too. US supermarket chain Walmart’s first two Reels are simple copies of posts featuring influencers Avani and k0uvr (who both have large follower counts on both Instagram and TikTok).
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While this strategy is simple, it is also effective. Reels already has significant reach, since Reels content is surfaced within Instagram’s main explore feed. As a result, brands are in some cases getting more views on their Reels than they did on their original TikToks.
For example, one of the two clips posted by Chipotle has reached 708 thousand views on Reels, while the original clip on TikTok has been watched 480 thousand times. And Burger King’s most recent Reels clip has 426,000 views, almost ten times the reach as TikTok, where it has 47,000 views.
Using Instagram’s reach for TikTok content
For brands already on TikTok, Reels seems to just be a means to extend their TikTok content’s reach. But interestingly, a few brands which aren’t on TikTok are using Reels’ launch as an opportunity to start creating TikTok-style content.
Timothy Armoo, founder and CEO of Fanbytes, an influencer marketing agency, said that while Reels is unlikely to prise creators away from TikTok, it may stop some of Instagram’s own influencers from moving across to TikTok. For brands and influencers with big audiences on Instagram, it’s easier to post TikTok-style content on Reels than it is to build their audience from scratch on TikTok itself.
Fashion brands Topshop and Louis Vuitton for example have both started using Reels, while neither posts on TikTok. Louis Vuitton’s posts in particular look like attempts at creating TikTok-style content. Six of the fashion brands’ Reels look very similar to the ‘Stranger Things Challenge’ which was popular on TikTok a few years back.
Takumi’s Keane-Dawson agreed that brands and influencers who are primarily based on Instagram might use Reels as a channel for posting less polished content than they would on their main feed, without the need to start from scratch on TikTok. “[Reels] adds an additional dimension to Instagram and may help to encourage influencers to create and share more real, authentic content on Instagram compared with the polished, filtered photos that have been popular in the past, but now resonate less with consumers,” she said.
More than just a ‘nice to have’?
So far, both Keane-Dawson and Fanbytes’ Armoo see Reels as more of a ‘nice to have’ for brands than anything else. And neither anticipates that Reels will replace TikTok for brands and influencers.
“There has been a deep internet culture created on TikTok which cannot be copied,” says Armoo. “TikTok has become such a fabric of the culture that you’d need something sizeably better to beat it.”
But as mentioned above, Reels’ reach is significant. And if brands spot trends in which types of content perform better on Reels than on Instagram, it seems likely that many would start developing separate strategies for the two platforms.