Code and Theory has never been easy to define, but the agency had its best year in 2019 in part because the marketing world caught up with the expansive and somewhat amorphous reality of what it does.
Is it a design shop? An experiential marketing shop? A digital creative shop? Yes to all. And while the majority of its work is projects, Code and Theory also has agency-of-record assignments from Adidas and, most recently, Xerox (begun in 2019 but officially announced earlier this year).
Agency revenue soared 25 percent last year to $90 million on wins that also included Prudential, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Spotify, Mattel, Thomson Reuters and the NCAA. The Stagwell Group-owned shop also won a key account with Johnson & Johnson consumer brands including Tylenol, Listerine and Zyrtec alongside “cousin” agency Doner, a unit of MDC Partners, whose CEO Mark Penn is also chairman of Stagwell.
Code and Theory, founded in 2001, does 61 percent of its work in platform and product design; 23 percent in integrated marketing; 9 percent in data, analytics and research; 5 percent in business and organizational consulting; and 5 percent in experiential marketing. That’s a little bit of everything, in a sense, and last year might have been so good because more marketers began to work the same way, says CEO Dan Gardner.
“Before 2019, we were growing, expanding and adding capabilities,” Gardner says. “They were a little too advanced for the market. I think the traditional CMO wasn’t ready to buy our types of services. They didn’t understand the fundamental shifts they needed to make. And 2019 was the moment when the more modern CMO corps came in and understood the expansion of things that they needed to do in marketing. If you think about what does a modern CMO buy, are they buying only advertising agencies? Is an agency supposed to do more than just create the ads?”
By way of definition, Gardner says, “We simply describe ourselves as a digital-first creative agency.” Ultimately, though, the comprehensive nature of the work isn’t so different from what agencies were originally built to do, as Gardner sees it. “Original advertising agencies were creative people who solved problems,” he says. “We think we’re a modern version of that.”