August 7, 2020

Big Reels keep on turnin’, proud Marky keep on soarin’: 5 potential wins (and challenges) for Instagram’s latest feature.

Instagram this week rolled out their highly anticipated TikTok rival, Reels, whilst the Chinese owned Bytedance app simultaneously faced unchartered political territory. Will the Facebook owned platform’s latest content offering be another TikTok, or another Vine?

Ben Sinden
Ben Sinden

Managing Director, Publishing

Headlines around the world this week have honed in on the US/China/Trump/Microsoft/TikTok saga, but away from Washington in the offices of Mountain View, Instagram entered the world of super-short form video content. 

Although not EXACTLY the same as TikTok, Reels allows users to produce 15-second clips, harnessing product integrations such as AR filters and highly importantly music tracks, which has been a key component in TikTok’s viral content success.

Here I look at five of its potential reasons for success but also challenges it faces.


  1. Borrowing formats: Facebook has a track record of success in utilising well performing mechanics from other platforms (*cough* Snapchat Stories *cough*) and there is no reason why Reels should be any different.
  2. Alignment to Creators and Audience: YouTube has mooted its own version of TikTok with talk that ‘Shorts’ will be the way they go. However, IG remains best placed to replicate the TikTok success compared to other platforms based on a number of things; it is a mobile-first product, the #hashtag culture is core to the platform and enables IG to set the demand and supply of trends and viral content. Importantly though, its community of creators, along with Snap, are the most highly aligned with those creating for TikTok.
  3. Safeguarding: Speaking of creators, Reels can potentially safeguard key talent and audiences from abandoning Instagram in favour of the next big thing. Throw in that Instagram is already trialling monetisation for creators as well as a more developed commerce functionality, and the commercial rewards seem just as appealing as TikTok’s recently announced Creator fund.
  4. Appeal to Publishers: When it comes to publishers, the whole Facebook/Instagram ecosystem is more advanced and makes Reels easier to dive into operationally and into an already existing audience.
  5. Lifeboat!: Reels is the obvious home if the TikTok/Trump administration battle continues for both audiences and creators. Social is global by its very nature especially while brands and agencies are often requiring global campaigns. TikTok potentially being carved up ownership wise (welcome to the party Microsoft) could impact their status in this domain, with IG ready to swoop.
black smartphone
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on

However, it may not be complete plain sailing…


  1. How much is too much?: Is there a saturation point of content types on any one platform? Stories, IGTV, Reels – can they all work together, will something take a hit? TikTok is a clear and simple user proposition – could Reels be one step too far for Instagram amongst other content in the grid?
  2. Music (culture and rights): Will the music tracks available hit the right notes with fans? As mentioned, a key pillar for TikTok’s success is its intrinsic link to music and culture. Also, businesses are unable to access music for licensing reasons. Will Instagram be able to unleash the viral sensations and the benefits to all?
  3. Millennials vs Gen Z vs Gen Alpha: TikTok is a truly Gen Z first platform, whereas IG grew up with Millennials. TikTok celebrates you being you, with Instagram being that slightly bit more polished version of yourself. Will there be a barrier to entry for creators to fully embrace silliness and vulnerability in the same way on Instagram? And what will the next generation make of both platforms?
  4. Advertiser proposition: It sounds like Reels are building a community first before extensively pitching Reels to agencies. There are currently no advertising formats on Reels and creators are unable to boost posts through paid solutions. Given this hurdle, do TikTok and Snap still have the runway to pull clear perhaps?
  5. The Authorities: Yes, TikTok is in quite a pickle with the US government, but Facebook and Instagram are far from in the clear in terms of trust and transparency. Only last week, Mark Zuckerberg and other heads of big tech were questioned by a congressional antitrust committee. The fear is that they wield too much power and that prevents new forms of competition. The risks that could be on the horizon are still unknown.

Personally I’m a fan of Reels and see it has a place that brings value to the audience and opportunities to creators. At Brave Bison we were lucky enough to get a sneak peak and release a few early videos for our brands The Hook and the recently launched food brand Yellow Teeth.  It’s something we will continue to not only invest in, but also have fun with as part of a broad cross platform publishing strategy.