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The Weather Company’s Mobile Ad Forecast: It’s Raining Native

The meteorologically-minded cable TV network's mobile app gets an overhaul, with custom brand-friendly ad units taking centerstage.

‎Alex Linde, The Weather Company's SVP for Monetization
‎Alex Linde, The Weather Company’s SVP for Monetization

When it comes to local news, the weather is both the most universal and personal subject. So when an advertiser like Disney wants to drive ticket sales for a new release, timing and temperature can provide a platform for the perfect emotional connection between filmgoers and advertising.

That’s the digital ad pitch The Weather Company (parent of the cable TV network The Weather Channel) makes to marketers who have embraced the use of the native ad units that were rolled out across its mobile apps in 2013.

“Mobile is the fastest growing segment of all our channels,” says Alex Linde, ‎SVP for Monetization at The Weather Company, adding that more than half of its digital traffic comes from mobile.

Creative Construction

Meeting the creative challenges in mobile, then, was the first step for TWC, who forged an in-house creative production team that builds custom native ad units. The ads are designed with the creative standards associated with TV commercials and glossy print placements so as to bring the essence of high quality to mobile.

The native ads, run in the background of the app’s home screen and use a range of templates representing weather conditions and times of day – e.g., sunny, cloudy, morning, night

“If it’s a sunny day, a person opening the app may see a picture of a car at the beach and a person taking out a surfboard,” Linde says. “It’s more likely that they might attach the emotion associated with a perfect day at the beach from seeing that image and transfer that to the product.”

Beauty and Brains

Satisfying advertisers’ need for beautiful ads is one thing, but TWC doesn’t just rely on its cosmetic abilities to attract advertisers. TWC emphasizes backing up the “beauty” rendered by its in-house creative team with “brains” from its marketing insights and data division, WeatherFx.

The WeatherFx division is charged with matching general advertising messages and visuals with specific weather periods.

Here’s an illustration of what the WeatherFx does in action: a hair care marketer may want to advertise to consumers in certain areas of the country where humid conditions are being forecast. Among many other things, heavy precipitation can cause a bad hair day. A user checking the TWC app and noting a forecast of higher precipitation may be open to an advertising message promoting a product that promises to keep follicles flowing instead of frizzing.

Aside from making sure the outdoor elements are lined up with the proper ads, WeatherFx determines if the placements hit their mark by measuring the performance. In all, the existence of this analytics unit is a recognition that weather is at once heavily local, data-rich, social, and real-time.

From stocking up for the next “storm of the century” to planning which day to host a picnic, TWC wants its app — along with its PC website and the cable channel that underlines it all — to be the primary tool in helping people prepare.

To drive the marketing to pay for it, TWC promises its advertisers it can ensure they’ll be similarly prepared for those consumers. The company claims that WeatherFX’s data is able to determine not only who and where to target with mobile ads, but when.

“People buy snow tires the day after a storm hits, not the day before,” Linde says. “We work with a lot of allergy companies, so when we see outbreaks, we connect advertisers with those regions.”

The Wonderful Wizard Of  Ads

Conversely, a cloudy or rainy day is probably not the best moment to serve a car ad with a beach scene. But it might be optimal to show an ad for movie. That’s what TWC did in working on a campaign for The Walt Disney Co.’s 2013 theatrical release, Oz the Great and Powerful.

For example, someone opening the app in New York City after 8pm may have seen an ominous image of the Wicked Witch at night. If the next day called for showers, a background scene of the witch walking through a rainy forest would appear. Users in a location marked by “82 degree weather with patches of fog” would see Oz characters looking up at a cloudy sky along the Yellow Brick Road.

“Being able to match all the weather and advertising elements is where WeatherFx is so important,” Linde says.

Going Local

Connecting national advertisers with local markets and conditions using WeatherFx’s intelligence and insights belongs to the company’s active sales partners which are currently operating in 19 markets around the US.

“HVAC [heating, ventilation, air-conditioning] companies, for example, like to run campaigns when it is very hot or very cold – which are prime conditions for heating and cooling to fail,” notes Denise Chudy, TWC’s SVP for mid-market and local sales. “As another example, roofers will be targeting the first signs of spring to help homeowners whose homes were hit hard with the brutal winter snow, ice and cold.”

By end of 2014, TWC expects to be in 50 markets, Chudy says, adding: “We plan to continue our growth until we are represented in every DMA in the U.S.”

Banning the banner?

When mobile advertising really started to emerge, after the iPhone was born in 2007, the hope across the online ad industry was that something better would come along to replace the loathsome display ad banner, with its putatively abysmal average click-through rates of 0.001%.

That didn’t seem to happen for a number of reasons. The lack of standards was one issue, something the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has been addressing. And the difficulty of running ads across various operating systems also slowed the growth of mobile, but that friction has been reduced by the adoption of the HTML5 universal coding program.

While that progress has unlocked millions more dollars for spending on mobile, the last major hurdle for publishers and advertisers has been the lack of creativity — an issue that also plagues the PC-based online ad industry.

Native, or any kind of specially-tailored ad units, has been the favored answer these days. With native ads, the hope is that brands will respond with higher spending. Over time, more money will raise creative standards, as the same competitive pressures that exist in TV and print are translated into mobile.

Or, at least, that’s the expectation, Linde suggests.

“Marketers like to see shiny things, of course, and pretty ads are a big driver of branding campaigns,” Linde says. “But they’re not really going after the core pain point, they’re not addressing the main objective that the marketer has.”

In order to deliver on marketers’ branding objectives, TWC’s approach begins with telling stories. But it’s near impossible to adequately fit a narrative in the thin strips of a banner ad at the bottom of a smartphone screen.

The Emotional Experience

“If you’re trying to convince a Walmart person that they’re more of a Target person, doing that in a 320- by 50 [pixel] banner ad is hard,” Linde says. “You have to have images from people’s lives that customers can take some emotional resonance from. That’s why print is very effective and that’s what we try to do with our ads – replicate that deep emotional experience and translate it to mobile.”

In March, TWC unveiled its latest app redesign, which banishes the standard mobile display placement from its home screen, something the company hasn’t done since its app went into existence seven years ago.

Linde hastens to add that TWC isn’t completely banish the banner; it’s just sidelining this ad unit to a greater degree.

“We’ll still support the traditional formats because we know that marketers still employ them,” he says. “But the prettier ad units will naturally be saved for the better placements.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.