What fashion and beauty needs to know about Reels

Alma L. Figueroa

The day Instagram launched Reels, its new TikTok-style video feature, creator Gabby Murray posted a video wearing an Ivory Ella T-shirt. It gathered 17 million views in the first 24 hours, per Murray’s agency. On TikTok, where Murray had posted the same video, it has 2.1 million views in three days.

Reels has been criticised as a copycat feature, but it could hold massive potential for fashion brands, which have only started to warm up to TikTok. Ivory Ella, popular among TikTok’s influencers, is one of the platform’s most-followed fashion brands, with 400,000 followers. Reels’s reach could attract the attention of popular influencers and shift brand priorities back to Instagram.

“This will go down as a historical moment for her and us and the brand,” says Brian Mandler, co-founder of TikTok-focused agency The Network Effect, which works with both Murray and Ivory Ella. While views on both platforms are meaningful, he says, the Instagram Reels views expose Murray to a new audience.

Instagram Reels lets users create and share 15-second videos; users can enhance them with music, augmented reality or by splicing clips together. Last week, Instagram expanded it to 50 countries, including the US, UK, Japan and Australia, after testing it in Germany, France, India and Brazil. The push comes as rival TikTok, the fastest-growing social media network of all time, faces a potential US ban that would disrupt its potential for brand partnerships. For brands or users hesitant to invest in the platform, or creators anxious that they will lose their audience, Reels offers a potential safety net.

It also offers a more robust advertising and commerce infrastructure — including analytics — to brands, and it’s more familiar to marketers, says Gartner senior principal Brian Lee. While Reels is not yet open to advertisers, Instagram director of product Tessa Lyons-Laing said that she is “looking forward to seeing” how it can be incorporated in the future. If Reels becomes as successful as Stories, Instagram’s 2016 answer to Snapchat, it would serve as another forum for brands to market to consumers, through both organic and paid-for content, and funnel them toward buying directly on the platform. In 2019 (prior to Facebook bans this summer), eMarketer predicted Instagram’s ad revenue to reach $12 billion this year in the US.

For now, Instagram is not targeting brand dollars for Reels, but influencers’ work. “We’re continuing to focus on creator monetisation, shopping integrations and different ways that we can help creators turn their communities and the engagement of their communities into sustainable businesses,” Lyons-Laing says. “Expect more to come there.”

Some doubt that Reels will be enough to convince TikTok stars to migrate over, as TikTok has successfully tapped into Gen Z’s evolving social media behaviour. “My first impression is that it will be a safer and more comfortable place for brands but present less opportunity for virality,” says Dina Fierro, VP of global digital strategy and social engagement at Nars Cosmetics, which created a TikTok hashtag challenge in the US, Russia and Japan in December. “I don’t see the spirit of TikTok translating to Instagram, as the communities and what resonates are very different.”

The creators come first

The success of Reels depends on if it can attract creators. Consumers won’t care otherwise, says Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Obvious.ly, whose clients include Calvin Klein, Amazon and Jimmy Choo. Brands rely on creators to achieve the appropriate style of content and cadence on platforms. Levi’s, for example, doesn’t share content on its own TikTok account but hired creators for a recent TikTok campaign.

TikTok has effectively courted creators, says Karwowski, most recently initiating a billion-dollar fund for creators, while Instagram paid creators to participate in the Reels launch. “Enabling creators to turn their passions into a living on Instagram is something that we are really, really focused on,” Lyons-Laing says. One way to attract them and encourage original content for Reels would be to create unique features, says Conor Begley, co-founder and president of influencer marketing platform Tribe Dynamics.

In Instagram, a creator’s Reels appear on their grid and in a new tab. The Reels feed is found in the “Explore” section, and Reels from people you follow also show up within the Instagram home feed.

© Instagram

Dior joined TikTok to explore more “laid-back” content, according to a spokesperson; to promote the Dior Cruise show in July, it shared models changing looks with the snap of a finger. But its most successful campaign was a behind-the-scenes video with Cara Delevingne, with more than 2.5 million views. Going forward, the brand says it intends to embrace the potential of Reels on Instagram by creating specific content.

While Reels is an effort for Instagram to appeal to TikTok’s younger audience, Instagram’s older users might appeal to creators, and might be better for brands, says Lee, of Gartner. (Instagram users are mostly between 18 and 34, while TikTok’s audience is largely younger than 18.) Many fashion and beauty brands have been slow to TikTok because its audience skews so young, Karwowski says. “Now that Reels is within Instagram, that caveat goes away. From an advertiser’s perspective, they’re really going to be looking to see if creators do flock to it and if they’re able to see the sheer amount of engagement that creators on TikTok were getting.”

“The [TikTok] platform isn’t entirely intuitive, which can be intimidating,” says Priscilla Tsai, founder of skincare brand Cocokind. Adding Reels to Instagram allows new creators and brands to adopt the format, she says.

It’s a new format, not a new platform

One day after Reels launched, another TikTok competitor, Triller, reached a valuation of $1.25 billion, suggesting that short-form videos will become platform-agnostic. Thus, TikTok-style content will likely resonate with users regardless of where it lives, and multiple platforms can be successful, says Brian Nelson, co-founder of The Network Effect. But brands can’t expect success overnight on a new platform. TikTok’s popular brand-creator partnerships were ongoing, a pattern that could translate to Reels and is in contrast with traditional influencer content and single paid posts.

“You can’t just be visiting. You may get a billion views, but if you are just visiting, they aren’t meaningful,” Nelson says.

Brands, at least early on, are likely to duplicate content and approaches on both platforms. Aldo plans to share modified versions of its first major TikTok campaign to Reels, says Amanda Amar, the brand’s global director of PR and social media. The campaign is less polished than what the brand has usually put on Instagram, she adds. Going forward, Amar thinks Reels might have a hybrid style that is more focused on products than TikTok.

After a testing period, Aldo debuts on TikTok this week with an ad campaign and dance challenge featuring TikTok stars. The brand will repurpose the content for Reels, but add stickers and other features to make it appear native to Instagram.

© Aldo

In response to the Reels launch, TikTok fashion content partnerships lead CeCe Vu says that although TikTok welcomes competition, its content is differentiated. She alluded to recent criticisms of Instagram prioritising perfection. “The content on TikTok is not about the glossiest, perfect-life image, but rather it’s about expressing yourself and showcasing your passions.”

If brands have the resources to do TikTok and Reels – and if TikTok maintains its presence in the US – they should, says Rachel Tipograph, founder and CEO of social video platform MikMak, whose client Elf had a successful TikTok campaign. A healthy mix of marketing channels is better for brands, and MikMak’s top-performing clients use up to 29 media channels to drive engagement and commerce, she says. Instagram Stories, for example, didn’t kill Snapchat, says eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman. “It ate into its growth, but there is room for the content format to flourish in both”.

While some brands may share the same campaigns on both TikTok and Reels, Mandler says, it’s too soon to know if their individual algorithms will lead to the same type of content being popular. In the short-term, Karwowski thinks creators will either film the same thing twice or use external video-editing software to be able to post the same video to both platforms. In that regard, she admits, Instagram does have the upper hand, because people can post to Stories, feed and Reels at once. “The convenience factor is a big advantage.”

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