I hosted a panel at the MAU conference in Las Vegas last month titled “Perfect your Growth Mix: Brand vs. Performance Marketing.” At one point in the on-stage exchange, having discussed linear television advertising and streaming, I asked the panel — comprised wholly of app advertisers — a pointed (and unplanned) question: Would you rather advertise on TikTok or Netflix?
The question was frivolous and intentionally contentious: TikTok’s advertising platform is nascent, Netflix (as of now) doesn’t feature any advertisements, and the premise was a false choice (if Netflix did host ads, there’s no reason an advertiser would have to choose between one platform or the other). But given the context of the panel, I thought it would be interesting to see where (and why) people held preferences for one or the other: surely brand marketers would choose Netflix and performance marketers would choose TikTok?
Unsurprisingly, none of the panelists took the bait (almost everyone took the “I’d wish for more wishes” approach and said they’d advertise on both), but even as a fantastical hypothetical, the question draws interesting boundaries between performance and brand advertising on mobile. Which formats and content backdrops are most appealing to each strategic blueprint? And why would one platform be more interesting to a brand marketer than the other?
As background: TikTok is a video sharing mobile app in which users apply music to short video clips (it is the former Musical.ly app, which was acquired by ByteDance and rebranded as TikTok), and Netflix is a video streaming service. 70% of time spent watching Netflix happens via a television (and only 10% happens via a phone), so the products serve different use cases, but a survey conducted by Facebook revealed that 94% of people hold a smartphone in their hand while watching television, so its not absurd to think of Netflix as a potential venue for mobile app install ads.
The real points of differentiation between the services, at least for the purposes of the question, are the target demographics and content formats for each. TikTok serves bite-sized video content and Netflix serves long-form video content. And consequently, the demographic reach of each service is different. While Netflix doesn’t break out viewer statistics (for a comprehensive review of streaming usage statistics, see this recent comScore study), we can infer a number of things from broader streaming demographic research to conclude that Netflix’s viewership is more stratified by age than TikTok’s, which trends extremely young.
Why do these differences matter? A few reasons. The first is that brand advertisers are less likely to want to place their ads next to user-generated content in the first place, and, depending on the brand, they could be extremely loath to juxtapose their brands with user-generated content from very young people. The second reason these differences matter is that the short-form TikTok content is modular and “feed-able,” or able to be placed in a scrolling, infinite feed. This means ad units look almost native and are tightly integrated within content in a way that doesn’t disrupt engagement.
Contrast that with most possible implementations of ads on Netflix, which would be contra-content: video that is designed specifically to disrupt engagement to draw attention to whatever is being advertised. There are potentially creative ways around this (see this article for some ideas on the future of interactive entertainment), but if the “commercial” paradigm (mid-roll ad) or a pre-roll format would prevail on Netflix, it would stand in opposition to the core content that viewers had queued.
That’s a terrible format and placement for mobile app install ads. Users don’t like punctuating their content experience with an app download: it’s why mobile app install ads do well in feeds and before / after short-form content (Facebook feed, Instagram stories) but not in mid-roll placements or even generally on the mobile web within long-form text content, but they do work next to search results (short-form, mid-feed).
Ad context matters, and even though TikTok and Netflix could be replaced in the question I asked with a host of other services each, the underlying fault lines that form between these two video consumption services are interesting for advertisers to think about. What’s the goal of a campaign, and can it be fulfilled with an ad on TikTok? What about with a mid-roll Facebook video ad? A Snap ad? An in-game rewarded video ad? An abundance of ad formats has spoiled mobile advertisers for choice, but those formats tend to be successful in narrow ways. It’s important to consider that before getting excited about new ad inventory.