Meet Grace Wells, the TikToker making DIY ads for major brands all on her own
Grace Wells started making faux ads on TikTok during the pandemic. Little did she know her hobby would transform into a full-time career making national campaigns for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Samsonite and Logitech.
Self-taught videographer Grace Wells is making spots for Olay and Logitech – all on her own / Grace Wells
Like many of us, Grace Wells picked up a pandemic hobby or two. But rather than sourdough starters or crocheting, the 24 year-old New York resident picked up videography and production.
At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, Wells was finishing her master’s degree in linguistics in Edinburgh, Scotland. “All of my classes ... were being canceled because the school did not have any sort of online infrastructure,” she explains. “I found myself going from being a full-time student ... to [having] no job and nothing to do.”
She had taken up photography a couple of years prior and decided to pull out an old camera. Then, in April, she joined TikTok and began filming original content in her apartment.
As an amateur, she felt that there was a lot to learn about the craft. She spent time reading articles and watching YouTube tutorials on video production and editing. “At the very beginning, I was trying hard to learn in a more formal way ... But I found that I wasn’t really absorbing any of the information until I was actually creating things. The biggest thing that helped me learn how to do this was actually just doing it – which is maybe a little bit counterintuitive, but for something that’s so visual and hands-on ... if you don’t practice, you’re simply not going to learn.”
A new lens
Wells began creating faux commercials for random objects – such as books, toilet paper and even potatoes – as a way to exercise her creative freedom and put her filming, production and editing skills to the test. Using production-grade lighting tools, homemade sets and a little help from friends here and there, Wells began creating dazzling, high-energy videos with a degree of editing and production that mimicked real, million-dollar ad campaigns. They were all filmed in her bedroom or living room. And, to Wells’s surprise, they took off.
“The first [of these] was a commercial for a fork,” she says. “It got like a million views, which was absolutely mind-blowing, because up until that point, I had a couple of hundred Instagram followers, so those numbers to me were unimaginable.” Within a few months, she’d built up a substantial following on the platform. She moved back to her family home in Westchester County, New York, and took a job working in video content production for make-up brand Grande Cosmetics – while continuing to create her own parody TikTok ads on the weekends. Just a few months later, an ‘ad’ she made for a paper clip garnered nearly 13m views on TikTok.
@gracewellsphoto watch till the end for the final vid! // 1,000 points if you can figure out what song lyrics are on the paper #videomagic #fyp #epiccommercial ♬ my future - Billie Eilish
And brands started to notice. Among the first to reach out to her was popular fitness-focused energy drink Celsius. The brand tapped Wells to create a national TikTok ad campaign. The TikTok content she created on the brand’s behalf received 9m organic views. “It’s very rare ... branded ads do not get that kind of organic traction [usually],” she says. That was when the floodgates really opened. “A lot of brands are beginning to recognize that even though I’m not a [traditional] influencer – I’m not going to show your product and say, ‘I love this product, because XYZ’ – I still bring value with the content that I make.” By the spring of last year, she had quit her job at Grande Cosmetics to work full-time as a self-employed creator. Around the same time, she was scouted by Tool of North America, a Los Angeles-based production company. The firm brought her onboard a burgeoning program that Wells explains is designed to “bridge the gap” between independent social media-focused creators and traditional media. “Bigger brands are directing a lot of their marketing budgets toward TikTok and social now,” she says. “The viewership potential is so high – it’s almost as high as a Super Bowl ad in some cases – but the [investment] costs are obviously much more affordable. So, there’s a need in the more traditional broadcast media space for people who really understand social.”
Setting up shop... in a convent
Today, Wells has built up her portfolio significantly; she’s applied her DIY approach to create video ads for major clients including Samsonite, Logitech, Sabra and Procter & Gamble-owned Olay, Dawn and Gain. She creates all of the sets herself, wracking together products from Ikea and Amazon to create makeshift ‘showers’ or ‘kitchens’ that look highly realistic, in a studio situated in a convent across the street from her home (“Every once in a while, a nun will walk in and say hello,” she says). Wells credits the flexibility enabled by working independently for the impressive quality of her work. “The resources that we have, as independent creators, are so vast – not only the technology of cameras, lenses and editing software, and the capabilities [enabled by those technologies], but just the access that we have to information and being able to learn how to navigate all of these things.” Of course, she acknowledges that there are limits to this independence. For one, she points out, what an agency or in-house production team could accomplish in one day sometimes takes her weeks. “There’s only so much bandwidth that I have ... and only so many projects that I can take on.” Even so, it’s the very nature of this limitation, she says, that makes her content resonate so well with her audience. “That’s almost the charm of the brand that I’ve built – this ability to create these things by myself. If I were to have a larger team, I don’t think that these videos would get as much traction or be as interesting to people as they are. It is challenging – like sometimes I have to operate the camera with one hand and be a hand model with the other hand – but that’s a big part of why it has resonated so well with people.”
@gracewellsphoto challenge accepted // watch till the end for the final vid! #videomagic #videography #vfx #videographer #dawnpartner #epiccommercials ♬ original sound - Grace Wells
Scoping out her future
This is just the beginning for Wells. What’s next? An online educational course she’s building from the ground up to help others learn how to create their own high-quality videography projects – on a budget, of course. She says she’s “taking a step back” from major brand partnerships for the time being to focus more of her energy on developing the course. She hopes that both aspiring creators and small, independent brands will be able to benefit from the course.
In fact, she believes that brands of all kinds still have some things to learn about partnering with creators successfully. She advises that brands should place more confidence in creators to lead the process. A common misstep that brands make is falling into the trap of believing they must stick with a checklist of ‘best practices’ for every piece of content – “like, ‘We need our video to be nine seconds long, we need to post four times a day, we need to use this audio and this hashtag.’” Wells says that such stipulations often hamper the creative process and that, especially on a platform such as TikTok, there are not many hard-and-fast proven rules. “Just trust the people that you’re partnering with and that they know their audience best and know how to reach their community.”
As far as her long-term vision goes, she’s still trying to feel out the possibilities, but she’s keen to invest more energy into the commercial production space. “A lot of creators [like me] are really interested in feature films and narrative filmmaking,” she observes. “I really admire the people who want to do that because their storytelling chops are insane. But that’s not my focus – I really love the commercial space. I really love social media. And I love the challenge of having to not only connect with an audience and tell a story, but also to hit the key brand messaging [and] having to fit all those little puzzle pieces together to create an ad. That’s kind of where I thrive.”
@gracewellsphoto the amount of color in this video makes me so happy // watch till the end for the final result! #videography #videomagic #logitechpartner @Logitech ♬ original sound - Grace Wells
Of course, the future could hold any number of possibilities. But for now, Wells feels like she’s found her niche. “I don’t know what [the future] looks like, necessarily, in terms of, ‘Do I want to be with a production company? Do I want to have my own production company? Do I just want to be a creator?’ I’m not quite sure. But I really like this space. I want to see where I’m going to take this.”