Blog Post

Marketing Trends: Instagram vs. TikTok

01/09/2020 - Sierra Ducey

TikTok is an app that is quickly growing in popularity across the globe. The word “growing” doesn’t even come close to capturing TikTok’s hype – the app, launched by China’s ByteDance in 2016, has been downloaded over 1 billion times globally. This new entertainment outlet thrives off of short videos that are trendy and humorous. For brands, however, this transparency is intimidating. In a world full of 15-second videos where people are dancing, creating DIYs, performing skits, and being hilariously strange, how does brand advertising fit in and where does it belong? TikTok is Gen Z’s paradise and 66% of users are under the age of thirty. The opportunities are immense for those companies aiming to communicate with today’s youth. To avoid marketing out of fear and confusion, in other words, means not speaking to the 500 million people who use the app each month. The following outline can help your brand prepare for the massive marketing opportunities on TikTok, (which, spoiler alert: are very different from the advertising methods used on Instagram).

How Does TikTok Work?

For users and creators, TikTok is simple, fun, and appealing. The app merged with the short-form video app,, in 2018, and has since continued to be used by the same audience. Everyone has their own profile and users can follow others, but what’s most unique about the app is its ‘Discover’ page. This page serves content, (or short-form videos under 15 seconds) that the app thinks the user will enjoy. Following people isn’t necessary, in this case, as everyone is automatically provided a stream of enjoyable, relevant content based on videos they’ve liked or shared in the past. From there, they can scroll through their ‘Following’ or ‘Discover’ pages and view content without a single distraction. No searching for profiles is necessary and the app, unlike Vine, doesn’t just put the focus on the “most liked” or “most viewed” videos. It’s an individualized entertainment experience on TikTok; not a popularity contest. The user is the focus from day one.

Dance trends and hashtag challenges are popular on TikTok as well, and it’s common to see different creators using the same songs to recreate content with millions of likes. Anyone can go live whenever they please, which also provides free range for users hoping to connect with their individualized audience. TikTok is like a playground in that anyone can do whatever they please, whenever they want. But unlike other apps, the judgment and pressure to be perfect is nowhere to be found.

How Can a Brand Advertise on TikTok?

To connect with the 13-24 year old users on TikTok, a brand’s marketing team has a few options. Companies can create their own profiles and issue fun, relevant videos themselves, (NFL teams have been great at this in 2019) but that requires staying on top of TikTok’s trends at all times. It’s worth the time and energy, however, in that trends keep the app afloat. Regurgitating popular content in new ways will catch a user’s attention and, most importantly, bring your brand’s video into that highly coveted ‘Discover’ page mentioned earlier. Influencer partnerships can also be pursued, but it is key a brand provides these users with free reign. Yes, the goal is to create a viral meme that puts your product in the limelight, but these content creators are the ones who know what their followers like and understand how they prefer being talked to. Pushing a polished, ad-oriented video on an influencer will not work. The video must be authentic, natural, and unscripted in order to catch on and, as a result, increase sales. 

In-feed ads can be purchased by companies if desired, but it’s the hashtag challenges created by advertisers that stand out the most. In this scenario, a brand puts out a video with a dance challenge or other task-oriented dare that encourages users to recreate it. They come up with a branded hashtag for the movement, mention it in the video’s caption, and tell users to add the same hashtag to their own videos. Learning more about Elf Cosmetic’s recent challenge – a great success for the brand – can give advertisers a glimpse into the incredible hashtag opportunities that run amuck on TikTok.

Instagram v.s. TikTok Trends: How are They Different?

Unlike content on Instagram, TikTok’s videos aren’t polished. They don’t follow a theme, they aren’t edited, and they are anything but complex. The videos are real, and many are filmed in bedrooms, backyards, and kitchens. Glitz and glam don’t define an influencer on TikTok. Instead, it’s the talent or personality of a user that makes them stand out amongst the rest. Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and Instagram’s Discover page are comparable, but TikTok’s trends are extremely unique. The same strategy used to market on one app cannot be used for the other. Instagram’s ban on likes may make the polished app of the past more natural, so it will be interesting to see how the two compare in the near future. An unstripped, un-pressured version of Instagram may make it a picture-oriented version of this newer short-video app. In the meantime, however, the trends vary greatly and it is critical for marketers to begin exploring TikTok to feel these differences, understand their impact, and create one-of-a-kind marketing strategies based on findings. Time is ticking (tick tock!) and there are millions of users right around the corner who are ready to see what you come up with.

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