Category: Southeast Asia Boutique Agency of the Year
Key clients: Coca-Cola, Shiseido, Diageo
New clients this year: N/A
Highlights: If pressure makes diamonds, as they say, then it also helped Virtue to make gold as Southeast Asia Boutique Agency of the Year. Besides having to reckon with post-pandemic economic uncertainty, the Singapore-based team’s situation was exacerbated by global headlines about parent company Vice Media Group’s financial predicament — though unrelated to the health of the agency’s business.
Virtue’s victory in the face of these challenges was earned by doubling down on its existing clients and sticking to its beliefs. The agency sees the relationship between brands and culture as symbiotic. Culture shapes brands and vice versa and placing brands inside culture makes them more relevant, visible, and valued.
Virtue calls its way of thinking “insider marketing.” This insider’s approach extended to tapping into Asian identity as an emergent culture, rather than looking towards the West.
As a key part of the culture it promulgates, Virtue leveraged its proprietary cultural intelligence to publish landmark reports on how brands can connect with the region’s evolving Gen Z and millennial audiences. The agency’s leaders also consulted on topics around youth culture in Southeast Asia, with regular media appearances showcasing their unique expertise to a wider audience.
While media coverage of Vice Media Group’s impending sale led to Virtue losing out on prospective new business, the agency did not let that limit its ambitions. Instead, Virtue pivoted strategy and doubled down on existing clients — Coca-Cola, Diageo, Shiseido — to reach greater heights, as well as bringing Refinery29’s and Vice’s 29Rooms to the region for the first time, with the Asia edition of the “funhouse of style, culture, and creativity” rocking Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.
Virtue clocked up a 56% increase in revenue from existing clients, which accounted for 95% of agency revenue during the AOY judging period, besides hitting its annual targets within six months. That success came from a three-pronged approach — think, create, work — which allowed Virtue to make a real impact with its lean, 14-strong team in Singapore as part of a borderless, global agency sharing talent, ideas, and resources around the world.
Virtue’s cross-collaboration approach saw the agency and Coca-Cola partner for Coca-Cola Creations, an innovative platform to bring new flavours and experiences across physical and digital. Highlights included Coca-Cola Soul Blast partnering with the hit anime Bleach to become the top product on TMall and go for 10x its retail price on the resale market outside Asia. Similarly, Coca-Cola Y3000 tapped into Gen Z’s “defiant optimism” to launch a limited edition flavour in select markets including the United States, Canada, China, Europe, and Africa, where Virtue used AI to let people create their vision of the Year 3000, supported by a collaboration with streetwear label Ambush.
The panel singled out Virtue’s inspiring examples of achievements versus objectives over the year, adding that the “great vision and innovative thinking” at the agency was also “practical, thinkable, and applicable.” The judges also noted its stellar work for clients and its impact.