Instagram eyes TikTok for fresh user acquisition, advertises on rival platform
TikTok’s closest rival, Instagram, is advertising on the short-video platform rather aggressively, even as ByteDance’s flagship company deals with controversies around misogynistic content on the app leading to a clamour for its ban and the biggest drop in its Android ratings in recent times.

Experts in digital advertising call it a move to acquire new users to sustain advertiser interest, as Instagram’s user growth shows signs of slowing — at 4.5% in 2020 as opposed to a previous forecast of 5.4% — as per eMarketer’s data published in January 2020.

Since December 2019, the Facebook-owned photo-and-video-sharing platform has been putting “in-feed native video ads” that show up on a TikTok user’s For You Page (video feed customised per user’s liking). These video ads, across languages like English, Hindi, French, and Japanese, have steadily grown in number, from just 16 in January 2020 to around 70 in March, and to four times as many at over 300 in April. Almost 200 such videos were released in May so far, 40 of which went live last week itself, fetching close to 5 million views for Instagram.

Hindi Instagram advertisement
Hindi Instagram advertisement
Japanese Instagram Advertisement
Japanese Instagram Advertisement

Between November 2019 and February 2020, there was a 50-60% uptick in spending on TikTok ads compared with the same period last year, said Gautam Mehra, the chief data officer at ad conglomerate Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN). Instagram is one among the many advertisers driving this uptick.

Most of its ads carry the same promotional content urging TikTokers to download the app or explore Instagram Stories and the platform’s various categories of influencers. The videos, accessed via TikTok’s desktop version, look like they’re also tailored towards different mobile screen sizes. Meanwhile, TikTok has been advertising on Instagram and Facebook since May 2019 as per information available on Facebook Ad Library.

Instagram Stories advertisement
Instagram Stories advertisement

In its 10th year, Instagram currently has 1 billion monthly active users globally as against barely three-year-old TikTok’s 800 million, as per estimates published by research portal Statista in April 2020. “Perhaps Instagram senses the likelihood of TikTok surpassing its user numbers soon. So, it is trying to acquire the subset of TikTokers who’re not on Instagram, before TikTok begins to eat into its share of ad dollars,” said Abhishek Asthana, the founder of boutique agency Gingermonkey that specialises in creating ad campaigns for digital platforms. India is TikTok’s biggest market and the second biggest for Instagram after the US.

The move may seem odd as the two platforms attract different kind of audience — if Instagram is where people are picture-perfect, TikTok users are known for showing their real picture to the world without fearing judgement. “But online users can always be segmented while doing targeted advertising,” said DAN’s Mehra, who also heads the network’s programmatic division. “Ultimately, the number of monthly active users is what drives reach and engagement in this business,” he added. And TikTok’s got those numbers.

Sam Singh, vice-president of monetisation at TikTok India, said: “Brands realise the potential of TikTok and are collaborating with us for effective engagement given the platform’s wide reach, diverse audiences and innovative ad-solutions.” Instagram declined to comment.

During the lockdown in India, Dettol ran a Hand Wash Challenge campaign on TikTok raking in 50 billion views. “Shortly after Dettol, Lifebuoy rolled out a similar campaign on TikTok and registered 20 billion views within a week,” said Asthana, who was an FMCG brand manager previously. “No other digital platform gives brands this kind of numbers right now,” he added.

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