Why a 14-year-old kid with TikTok is Virtue ECD's biggest competition

Grossebner: Virtue's European executive creative director
Grossebner: Virtue's European executive creative director

Recently, I was asked who I would consider to be my biggest competitor in the advertising industry. The answer I gave was surprising. I could tell from the look on the face of the person I answered. 

I considered saying "Accenture Interactive". With David Droga as its new creative leader, that consulting giant is a force to be reckoned with and, as such, might be the answer people would expect from a European executive creative director.

What I actually said was that my biggest competitor today is any 14-year-old kid with a TikTok, Twitch or YouTube account, an authentic creative idea and an unexpected approach. 

Young creatives become online sensations way before they’re old enough to join agencies, and often the ideas that fascinate us the most are the ones we see on social media. TikTok is surfacing stories from towns we’ve never heard of; but if the idea is good enough, people will like it, share it, comment on it, and make it seen.

In a world where culture moves fast, media is fragmented, attention is scarce and brands have become increasingly easy to ignore, consumers live in two different entertainment universes – one supported by advertising and programmatic media and the other self-funded and closed to advertisers.

Younger generations that have grown up in this new world – where brands are being skipped, scrolled, drowned out and cancelled – are becoming the major consumers of our time, and that has become a problem for the marketers and their advertising agencies competing for their attention. Then how can brands stand out in an ecosystem saturated with content?

Much as is the case with the content we see from social media sensations, it may also be time for creative narratives from brands to be built from inside culture.

I’m not merely talking about using influencers, because there are plenty of other pockets of relevance and authenticity for brands to find and use to create a place in people's lives.

Brands need to build work that helps shape culture and plays a role in driving positive change, rather than merely responding to cultural trends after they happen.

They should build communities and activate those communities to embody the brand experience or tap into collective progress to become relevant.

Today's generation needs brands that make them feel something. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to go beyond product and contribute to their lives in culturally relevant ways.

When I started working in advertising, creative ideas were held at the mercy of a creative director. They would be the ones to choose what was released into the world and what was left to die by the wayside. Clients decided the production quality with their budget, and one’s competitors were highly talented young creatives sitting at DDB, BBDO, Mother, Jung von Matt, and other big names. 

If you ask my nine-year-old nephew and his friends what they want to be when they grow up, their answer will most likely be “a YouTuber or TikToker”.

So perhaps my own answer to this question wasn’t so strange.

In addition to all the amazingly good creatives sitting in agencies, my competitors as ECD for Virtue Europe are Kahby Lame, Charli D'Amelio, Kids Diana Show and MrBeast.

And that’s because these are the people that are innovating at the speed of culture, able to cut through the noise.

They are untarnished by cynicism, their ideas are authentic, and they don’t have a hidden agenda.  

So when marketers today are constantly seeking new ways to engage but drowning in complexity, perhaps there’s a lot to be learned from the creatives on TikTok.

In fact, let’s delete “perhaps”.

Lukas Grossebner is executive creative director, Europe at Virtue

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