The Weather Channel has armed itself to drive interest in a new digital ad product. It’s enlisted a former Air Force meteorologist, who helped plan missions in Operation Desert Storm, to advise advertisers on optimal times to run ads as they look to take advantage of weather patterns to pump sales.
There was more on the line when Paul Walsh evaluated when conditions were ripe for the elite 101st Airborne assault team to attack inside Iraq in his role as senior master sergeant 20 years ago. But, he says his work at the Weather Channel, which he joined this summer as vice president of weather analytics, isn’t dissimilar.
“The use of weather information in business intelligence is very much in line with how the military uses weather information,” he says.
Walsh, who left the Air Force in 1997 after a 20-year run, is overseeing a fledgling ad system for the Weather Channel's online and mobile properties that carries a “Weather on Demand” working title. Set to launch early next year, the Weather Channel will combine forecasting expertise with data on how weather impacts consumer purchase intent in an attempt to convince clients to swiftly run targeted ads capitalizing on snow, sleet or rain (or heat and hurricanes).
If the system is executed with military-like precision, Weather Channel meteorologists would notice an unexpected weather event coming to a particular geography. Then, its sales team would reach out to an advertiser, which has its creative already prepared and is ready to trigger a geo-targeted on Weather.com or an iPhone app.
Beth Lawrence, a Weather Channel executive vice president in ad sales, says one challenge is to persuade marketers to allot a budget for “Weather on Demand” that can be deployed as unexpected conditions mandate.
“We want retailers and food companies to have this built into their plans, so when we come to them with information about what will happen 10 days out, this will trigger that,” she said.
In September, the Weather Channel executed a test with a large retailer. It issued an alert to the company advising that a cold wave was coming to the Midwest and Northeast (possibly affecting 40 million homes). Advice was to promote fall apparel. And display ads for hats and jackets followed. The Weather Channel said they brought a 100% jump in click-throughs compared to the average for “premium” executions.
Meteorologist/marketing advisor Walsh will rattle off all kinds of permutations that could potentially benefit, say, a consumer packaged goods company. A day that brings the same 65-degree temperature in Boston and Phoenix could be considered a heat wave up north but have Arizonans shivering, offering different opportunities simultaneously.
Of course, a coming hurricane might prompt ads for batteries and bottled water. Kellogg's might want to go with an ad blitz for Pop-Tarts. Wal-Mart reportedly has learned the sweets sell well post-storm; they can cheer people up and don’t require heating if the power is out.
After leaving the Air Force 20 years ago, the 53-year-old Walsh has worked in a variety of positions advising clients like Wal-Mart and Citibank how to use climate intelligence. But he does not just pore over satellite images and run algorithms in a back room.
In the military, while stationed in Korea, he was a meteorologist on an American forces network. Now, he makes appearances on the Weather Channel and is a frequent guest on CNBC speaking about how weather affects consumers and business.
In his marketing role, Walsh still offers up some of the lingo and gusto that dates back to when he enlisted in the Air Force at 17. And it just might appeal to an advertiser tired of PowerPoint slides drier than military meat loaf.
He says weather data can be a “force multiplier.” And “instead of being victimized by it, you can use it to increase your effectiveness.”
Then, there’s a summary battle plan: “Anticipate and exploit.”