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Opinion

TikTok Reality vs. Instagram Aesthetic: Where Should You Spend?

Instagram started as a platform that offered users the opportunity to curate a series of images that built a virtual version of themselves but has TikTok emerged to be the new, better, healthier version of this? Where does your brand fit in the ecosystem and where should you put your spend?

Instagram has long been a place to ‘live your best life’ with glossy pictures and clever captions. However, users and audiences are living their best authentic life on TikTok too. 

Instagram versus reality has long been a discussion point, with both voices of influence and ordinary users having felt the pressure to fit in with the aesthetics of the platform. What started as a place for users to try their hand at photography and editing, and curating a series of images that built a virtual version of themselves, has now become a new way for marketers to approach consumers.

Instagram has been the dominant platform for both influencer and branded content but with the rising demand for a sense of reality on social media, it’s no surprise new platforms are appearing. 

Hitting the global market in 2018, TikTok is the newest platform to enter the online marketing game. An infant compared to Instagram – which has been one of the most popular apps on our phones for a decade – this new social media platform has taken the public by a surprising storm. Whilst video content on social media continues to expand, TikTok has taken it one step further. Highly addictive and entertaining, TikTok has filled the hole left by Vine and rebranded video content.

Unlike Instagram, users on TikTok are free from convention and have made the platform their own. Full of real people sharing glimpses of their everyday life, TikTok is emerging to be a serious contender in the online advertising industry. But is it fair to compare TikTok and Instagram against each other? 

TikTok real life 

For audiences and creators, the appeal of TikTok lies in its freedom. Though trends play a role on the app, the platform is free from the limits of tradition: every video is a new take on a trend, every creator is unique, every feed is different. Due to its age and simplicity, there is a sense of reality on TikTok that other platforms have lost. Authenticity is an adland word we’re all tired of hearing, yet it is the intrinsic authenticity of TikTok that questions if and how branded partnerships would be successful on the app. 

Scrolling along through your For You Page is an algorithmic Rolodex of content. One minute you’ll be watching a creator make Mamma Mia on toast, the next a home cook is creating a gourmet meal for their cat with an ASMR type quality, then a lip sync video, followed by a mock trailer of what could be a new Netflix series. The creativity and idiosyncrasies on TikTok are endless – it’s real people doing fun things other people also enjoy.

Importantly, the app has allowed audiences and creators to discover and exhibit the fun and everyday parts of themselves other social media platforms haven’t, and this plays a crucial role when considering partnerships. 

While the real-life of TikTok is the appeal brands want to tap into, as soon as this type of content becomes branded the ‘realness’ can be lost. Traditional and basic product placement with a brand-approved script or caption will be an automatic turn off for audiences. And while tapping into the popular challenge format on TikTok and retrofitting it to your brand can work, it can also be cringe. 

For the real-life of TikTok to work for creator partnerships, the products and offerings of a campaign need to be seamlessly integrated into the content. We’re well versed in the scrutiny influencer marketing can face and despite cash for comment content being a dying practice, the prominence and format of TikTok mean audiences won’t be afraid to call out the brands and creators infiltrating their FYP (For You Page) with products and partnerships that aren’t well thought-out or legitimate. Success lies in thorough audience and creator research beyond simple demographics and segmentation with close attention to why audiences like the creators they do on TikTok.

Crucially, collaboration between brand and creator is a must. If their audience is the one you want to speak to, listen to the people who know how to speak to them as well as how to leverage the features of the app. 

Instagram aesthetic 

As much as we love real life and seeing it in marketing, there is still a desire for polished aesthetics. As a platform, Instagram is a place to mould and demonstrate taste and style virtually. There is an element of curation on the platform that both users and creators pride themselves in; a collection of images that shows the different facets of their identity.

Partnerships work – we’ve seen them grow from copy and paste #AD to strategic campaigns. Importantly, this evolution has recognised that Story and Grid Posts only have a small space to be both credible to the influencer as well as to land the right message for the campaign. A picture can say a thousand words, but it might not be able to land a CTA in just the right way alone.

Over time, influencer marketing on Instagram has adjusted to become strategic in choice but simple in messaging, and this works especially well for brands who have an ownable aesthetic and design. Instagram as a platform has also grown to understand this and has built innovations like the Paid Partnership tool and most recently the Instagram Shop to help create a frictionless journey. 

Audiences are smart. They have come to recognise their own behaviour and practices on Instagram, understanding there is a place for advertising on the app which works to their advantage just as much as does the marketers.

As the opportunities in influencer marketing on the app have moved away from being transactional, brands and creators have worked together to build an online identity and image which extends brand values and humanises marketing using visual aesthetics. But brands first need to have an aesthetic ownable to them. 

It’s important to remember, despite being a marketer you’re also part of the audience yourself. What you go to TikTok for is very different from what you like on Instagram; both platforms have different offerings, and audiences will continue to go to both.

Social media platforms will continue to learn from each other too, Instagram saw Snapchat’s offering and created their Story feature, and most recently the app is taking note of the USP and authenticity of TikTok launching their own attempt at the video content format called Reels. But only time can decide whether the feature will entice the same type of content and effect on audiences.

For a successful partnership on either platform, there needs to be a careful consideration for the audience you want to reach, and what types of creators speak to them in the right way for your brand and its tone of voice. In the past, it has been difficult for certain products and industries to use creative partners online, but with the potential of TikTok, we may begin to see more industries embrace this mode of marketing. 

The easiest way to delineate what will work and what won’t is to look at what each app offers audiences. TikTok lends itself to the audience’s personalities and humour, the content is less polished and real. Instagram’s format focuses on how audiences like to see themselves, the content is stylised with an aspirational feel. Ask yourself where your brand fits into this ecosystem and that’s where you should put your spend. 

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