Instagram has long been beloved of fashionistas — and a magnet for luxury-goods makers seeking to capture a slice of their spending. But glossy selfies are so last season.
Since short-form video took the world by storm, ByteDance Inc.’s TikTok has begun nibbling away at Instagram’s dominance. Luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Balenciaga are embracing the world’s most-downloaded non-gaming app, where teen influencers capture followers by the millions with flashy dance routines and challenges.
So now Facebook Inc.-owned Instagram is betting its new Reels feature can help it stay relevant to sellers of the hottest handbags, shoes and watches.
Users on TikTok tend to be younger, an important demographic for luxury brands. The platform’s emphasis on content created by TikTokers themselves makes it feel more authentic and fresh, but it also presents a greater risk that groups could lose control over their brand image.
Still, many are trying it out. Burberry Group Plc launched the TB Challenges when the iconic British brand unveiled its Thomas Burberry monogram last year. The idea was simple: Users were invited to post videos on TikTok and its Chinese app Douyin making the shape of a T and a B with their hands. The campaign generated more than 1 billion views across both platforms.
Kering’s Gucci created its first TikTok channel in February. Soon after, the Italian fashion house ran the Accidental Influencer project, promoting its vintage-inspired Gucci Tennis 1977 sneaker with videos including bespoke choreography for TikTok.
That effort was outstripped by the #GucciModelChallenge, which has garnered 24 million views. It took off this summer with no encouragement from the brand — proof of the power of the platform’s user-generated element. To participate, TikTokers emulate Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s “granny chic” style by dressing up in vintage finds, oversized sunglasses and headscarves, often including pieces by the brand. If their aim was to be cast by Michele, they may get their wish. Gucci will now feature some of the people who took part in its own TikTok project.
What makes TikTok so powerful is its youthful focus. Prada SpA invited 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio to its fashion show in Milan in February, where she danced on TikTok with catwalk models. Tapping into future big spenders is crucial. By 2025, under-45s are set to make up half of the luxury market and of that, 15% will be younger than 30, according to Bain & Co.
For all the experimentation on TikTok, Instagram, with over 1 billion monthly users, is still the most important social media platform for fashion and luxury. According to analysts at Bernstein, it’s the leading social media indicator of how brands are performing outside of Asia. (In Asia, apps such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat dominate.)
Companies have carefully curated their images on the platform. They work with more established influencers and celebrities, such as Jennifer Lopez at Tapestry Inc.’s Coach and musician Harry Styles at Gucci. And in a relatively new twist, users can shop directly from Instagram posts and live videos without leaving the app.
If Reels can take that all to a new level, the platform may just have a chance against TikTok. An increasing number of influencers, and brands including Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren Corp. are posting Reels, and the results are promising. A short video of model Bella Hadid dancing to original audio with Burberry’s pocket bag generated 3.7 million views. Only one of its longer-form videos on Instagram TV reached 1 million views.
The way for both Reels and Tiktok to capitalize on their positioning across luxury, fashion and retail would be to make their videos shoppable, something TikTok will launch in the U.S. shortly. Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc.’s Google has introduced Shoploop, where consumers can buy from short videos demonstrating beauty products.
But success for Reels isn’t guaranteed. Facebook is testing ways to make it easier to find on the Instagram home page. It’s unclear whether it will become as addictive as TikTok, which serves up content based on viewing habits. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tim Culpan has described this as TikTok’s secret sauce keeping users glued to their screen.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for Instagram is convincing luxury brands to invest time and money in Reels. After all, TikTok is already dominant in short videos and, with international travel ground to a trickle, they may want to focus on wooing wealthy consumers from Asia, and China particularly, at home on their local platforms.
In Shenzhen, Burberry’s done just that. Its new store in partnership with Tencent boasts a WeChat mini-program featuring a cute animal character that evolves the more users engage with the brand, from liking social media posts to buying things. Developing such programs is time-consuming and costly.
Even so, experimenting with Reels is worth it. If ever TikTok is weakened in the U.S. amid questions over its ownership, then Instagram would be well placed to benefit. If the two platforms continue to coexist, the competition for luxe users will intensify. Instagram needs Reels to work to avoid becoming a fashion victim in the battle for short-video supremacy.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.
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