Short-Form Video Battle: TikTok vs. Reels vs. Shorts

Short-form video is one of the biggest mobile marketing trends in 2023. Not sure whether to choose TikTok, Reels, or Shorts?

Do you often lose track of time while scrolling through countless Reels and TikToks?

We certainly do.

Short-form video is no longer limited to Gen Z and TikTok. Today, this format is immensely popular across multiple platforms and generations. As a result, it also became an essential part of every great app marketing strategy.

Read this article to find out everything you need to know about short-form video formats for mobile advertising!

Short-Form Video for Mobile Apps — A Necessity, Not Just an Option

Videos have been a cornerstone of mobile marketing for a while now.

Everyone knows that video ads are the best way to highlight the features of an app or game.

This is still true.

But, note this.

When it comes to app advertising on social media, you always need to stay on top of trends, and this is one you cannot ignore.

According to research by Mediaocean, 63% of mobile advertisers are monitoring short-form video as the top mobile marketing trend of 2023.

This puts short videos in front of other huge consumer trends such as CTV, e-commerce, the metaverse, etc.

TikTok vs. Reels vs. Shorts — Which One to Use?

Popularized by TikTok, short-form video has quickly made its way to other major social media channels — Reels on Instagram/Facebook and Shorts on YouTube.

These three formats are extremely similar.

The million-dollar question is — which one to choose?

TikTok, Reels, and Shorts are all great ways to spread the word about your app. But, they won’t be equally effective for your app. Each one of these formats has a distinct audience and impact.

When picking out the best short-form video format to advertise your app, you need to consider different factors, including:

  • Demographics data that tells you if your target audience is using the platform
  • Engagement data that shows if users interact with the format
  • Reach data that shows how many people can discover your content


TikTok short-form video statistics

Data source: The Graygency

With 1.2 billion monthly active users, TikTok has the smallest number of users of these three platforms (The Graygency).

But don’t let this fool you.

While it may not be the biggest (yet), TikTok is a cultural phenomenon and a virality machine. It is also the #1 choice for most mobile marketers, especially when it comes to mobile games.

Let’s see why.

Gen Z’s Favorite

It’s no secret that TikTok is the ultimate Gen Z platform, but did you know that most of its users are female?

Here are a couple of TikTok demographics statistics all mobile marketers should be aware of:

  • 42.9% of TikTok users belong to Gen Z (The Graygency)
  • The largest group of users is aged 10–19 (Statista)
  • 57% of users are female, while 43 are male (The Graygency)

Impressive Engagement Rates

In terms of user engagement, TikTok is the absolute winner among the competition.

According to Sprout Social, TikTok users spend 89 minutes per day using the app. But they don’t just scroll the entire day, they interact with it too — the average engagement rate on the platform is 8.9% (The Graygency).

Varying Cost

TikTok is not famous for being the cheapest platform to advertise on.

However, it all depends on the campaign.

Generally, the average CPM for TikTok Ads is $10 (Business of Apps).

Then again, recent research by Creatopy showed that TikTok can be the cheapest option among the three short-form video competitors.

In their experiment, they used the same creative across all three platforms, targeting the same age group and location, and splitting the budget equally.

The results showed that TikTok ads had the lowest CPM of all three platforms ($4.74). YouTube Shorts came in second at $13.50, and Reels were the most expensive ($16.67).

While this sounds nice, don’t take this data for granted.

The point of this research was to make campaigns similar to each other. For this reason, they didn’t optimize them for the lowest possible cost which could drastically change the outcomes.

TikTok and Mobile Games

Mobile gaming and TikTok go hand in hand.

Why is that?

There are a couple of reasons.

First of all, the majority of its user base, Gen Z, are avid mobile gamers. About 86% of “zoomers” play mobile games (Tapjoy). On top of that, they are the biggest mobile game audience by consumer spending.

On the other hand, TikTok has a great influence on mobile gaming trends. For example, a lot of developers use viral TikTok videos to develop new games. This resulted in many successful hyper-casual titles like Phone Case DIY and Fidget Toys Trading.

Finally, TikTok is a platform where games can go viral.

high heels game tiktok

There are numerous examples of viral mobile game campaigns. One of the most famous examples is the game High Heels, which gained popularity as a “game for baddies”.

Quick Tips for Promoting your App on TikTok

  • Make your ads similar to user-generated content (UGC)
  • Explore trending ads
  • Find and use currently trending hashtags (1–5)
  • Rotate creatives on a weekly basis
  • Pay attention to audio
  • Add popular organic posts to UA campaigns

Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels statistics

Data source: The Graygency

Today, our Instagram feeds look much different than earlier.

Besides cute photos of our friends, we now see a lot of recommended short-form videos. This is because Instagram is pushing Reels, its own version of TikTok videos.

Instagram Reels have the biggest user base of all three short-form video platforms — 2 billion people (The Graygency).

Who uses them exactly? What are the best ways to reach your target audience with Reels?

Keep reading to find out.

Millennials and Gen Z

While TikTok is considered the “Gen Z” platform, Instagram Reels are more popular among Millennials — they account for 31.5% of its user base (The Graygency).

While the majority of Millennials use Reels, some are opposed to them — including a couple of celebrities that publicly complained about them.

The thing is, this generation is used to the “old” version of Instagram.

For this reason, a lot of them are unhappy with the flood of Instagram Reels, accusing it of “trying to be TikTok”.

Meanwhile, Gen Z is the second-largest Instagram audience, and as you know — they love short-form videos.

But, as TikTok users, this generation has its own view on Reels — they often joke that videos that go viral on TikTok become popular 2 months later on Instagram.

Rising Engagement

Compared to TikTok, Instagram Reels don’t have impressive engagement rates — they average at 2% (The Graygency).

But, this percentage is growing by the day.

Engagement is actually one of the main reasons why Meta is pushing more Reels to Instagram and Facebook. In Q3 2022 alone, engagement rates for Reels were 35% higher than for other types of Instagram content (Business of Apps).

As people get more used to seeing Reels in their feeds, we can expect their engagement rates to increase.

One Format, Two Huge Platforms

What is it that Reels have and TikTok ads don’t?

Not just a slightly older audience.

Mobile advertisers like using Reels ads because of how they blend into large Meta ad campaigns.

By using Meta’s Ads Manager, they can simultaneously control campaigns on Instagram and Facebook. For example, if users engage with a Reel ad on Instagram, they can retarget them in their Facebook feeds for even greater exposure.

Quick Tips for Promoting Your App with Instagram Reels

  • Start with an attention-grabber
  • Make them look like organic Reels
  • Use trending music
  • Collaborate with influencers specialized in Reels

Youtube Shorts

Youtube Shorts statistics

Data source: The Graygency

Last but not least, YouTube Shorts are the newest contestant in the short-form video arena.

Since they were launched in July 2021, we still have plenty to learn about this format.

But here are some facts we do know.

YouTube Shorts have 1.5 billion monthly active users and receive 30 billion daily views (Statista). For a relatively new format, this is quite impressive.

However, it’s not too surprising.

The thing is, YouTube is heavily promoting Shorts — they are the first thing that appears when users launch the YouTube app. Plus, it automatically converts all vertical videos under 60 seconds into Shorts.

Diverse Audience

The YouTube Shorts audience pretty much reflects the overall YouTube audience.

Just like most YouTube users, the majority of ShortshEA users are male. When it comes to generations, Millennials are dominant Shorts users at 20.2%, while Gen Z is second at 14.5% (The Graygency).

The remaining 65.3% of users are either younger or older than that.

In other words, YouTube Shorts are well-accepted by different generations.

Lowest Engagement, But Top-Notch Reach

YouTube Shorts have the lowest engagement rates of all three formats.

But, this is probably just a force of habit.

Unlike on Instagram and Tiktok, many YouTube users possibly don’t have the habit of interacting with posts. They see YouTube as a platform primarily for watching, and not interacting with videos.


But, when it comes to ad reach, Shorts are the absolute winner — with a reach of 2.56 billion, Shorts have the potential to be discovered by 32.4% of the total population (The Graygency).

To compare, this is approximately 3x higher than the ad reach of TikTok and Instagram Reels.

Why is this a big deal?

When app marketers launch app promotion campaigns, they want their videos to go viral. The better the ad reach on the platform, the more likely this is to happen.

Quick Tips for Promoting your App with YouTube Shorts

  • Get right to the point
  • Make it shorter than 60 seconds
  • Pay attention to thumbnails
  • Include captions
  • Target countries where TikTok is banned

Short-Form Video Formats: The Winner(s)?

Short-Form Video Formats: The Winner(s)?

You’ve made it all the way here and now you’re wondering which platform to choose for your app?

That’s entirely up to you.

There is no “winner takes it all” scenario here.

As you can see, each of these short-form video formats has its pros and cons. The best option for you depends on what your goals and expectations are.

For example, if you want to get your app discovered by audiences of all ages, go for Shorts.

On the other hand, if you want to promote your mobile game to Gen Z, TikTok is the obvious choice.

Can’t decide on one?

In that case, test all three options and find out what works best for you. Generally, you don’t have to pick just one — it’s recommended to advertise on different channels. Just make sure to tailor your campaigns to each platform’s specific audience and context.

Finally, note that creating engaging short videos won’t be an easy task. It will take a lot of trial and error, and — it will take time.

Wrapping up on Short-Form Video Platforms

The trend of short-form video is not going away anytime soon.

In fact, it’s only getting started.

Therefore, if you’re still not advertising your app on one of these platforms, now is the time to get started.

However, keep in mind that your competition is probably doing the same thing.

For this reason, it is a good idea to diversify your advertising channels.

Aside from non-incent traffic on mainstream channels, you might want to try out incent advertising. With this type of marketing, you don’t have to worry about wasting money — you pay only for what you get.

If you want to find out more about this, reach out to MAF

Recommended for you

Never Miss a Beat in Mobile Marketing


Join thousands like you from around the world and get the MAF newsletter.

You have Successfully Subscribed!