Brand USA Taps Code and Theory as Digital AOR Ahead of New Campaign

Shop Will Redesign Organization's Website and Digital Experience

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Lunar rainbow at Yosemite Falls
Lunar rainbow at Yosemite Falls Credit: Courtesy Brand USA

Brand USA has hired Code and Theory as its digital agency of record. The shop will initially be charged with redesigning the organization's website and supporting its upcoming campaign.

Code and Theory won Brand USA's account following an "aggressive RFP with some of the top firms in the country and some of the best in the business," said Brand USA Chief Marketing Officer David Whitaker. He added that Code and Theory impressed the organization with its presentation and prior experience. In 2015, the agency won the Webby Award for Best Website for an Association for its work redesigning for Visit California, a Brand USA partner.

Prior to Code and Theory, J. Walter Thompson's Mirum served as the digital AOR for Brand USA. Representatives from the agency were not immediately available for comment.

Code and Theory's first task in its three-year engagement with Brand USA is to redesign the organization's website, which will include a new visual plan and user experience strategy. The site is expected to launch early in the fourth quarter. The shop will also develop a content management system to allow content to be published easily and with a sense of personalization for end users, said Michael Martin, managing partner at Code and Theory.

Brand USA has 14 international markets in which it invests in consumer marketing and branding, with websites in eight languages, so Code and Theory has to "make sure content can be localized from a language and SEO standpoint," said Mr. Martin. The agency is not creating 14 separate sites, he added, but one centralized site to house content while providing regions the ability to independently publish locally relevant posts. Mr. Martin said travelers from different countries, such as Germany versus Brazil, likely have different reasons for wanting to travel to the U.S.

"What we've challenged Code and Theory to do is build us this amazing product that feeds, fuels and delivers on the premise of a social-first strategy to educate, inspire and inform travelers," said Mr. Whitaker.

In addition to its work on the site, Code and Theory will collaborate with Brand USA's advertising agency McGarryBowen and media agency MediaCom on the organization's upcoming brand advertising campaign. Exact timing for the new initiative is still being ironed out, but it's expected to roll out in late summer or early fall, said Mr. Whitaker. He added that McGarryBown will lead creative on digital ads, but Code and Theory will work on the strategy of how they are displayed, shared and optimized.

With the new website and campaign, Brand USA is looking to create "the ultimate selfie experience," focused on inspiring consumers and visitors and teaching them something new or surprising about the U.S., said Mr. Whitaker. The organization also wants to garner user-generated content about travelers' experiences. Mr. Whitaker said the U.S. currently hosts about 80 million international visitors each year, and the goal is to surpass 100 million in the next four years.

Mr. Martin said the website and collaboration on the campaign is about more than just inspiring people to travel. He said it's about "the spirit of hospitality that the country is based on" and reflecting the U.S. in a positive and inviting light, even from a geopolitical standpoint.

Budget information on the account was not disclosed, but according to Brand USA's "FY2016 Objectives, Summary Marketing Plan & Budget" document, the organization plans on spending about $84.7 million on partner marketing services in the 2016 fiscal year.

At the beginning of the year, Stagwell Group, founded by former Microsoft executive Mark Penn, acquired a majority stake in Code and Theory.

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