How the weather affects marketing

People talk about the weather all the time, almost every day, and now brands are too by using weather data to target appropriate ads. 

The weather is a staple of smalltalk in the UK, being typically changeable and therefore unpredictable with the added comversational boost of the wettest January since records began, but weather-related marketing was formerly limited to adverts for ice cream in the summer or for cosy knitwear in the winter.

However, access to weather data and new technology is enabling brands to be smarter with their campaigns, basing them on real-time temperatures and conditions rather than expected seasonal changes.

While weather is sometimes blamed for poor sales, in January the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported no clear correlation between retail sales and weather conditions. It compared sales data since 2003 with average UK monthly temperatures, concluding that, in general, only sustained extreme weather conditions have a major impact on the economy.

Targeted marketing based on weather

Nevertheless, the Met Office believes brands can use data to increase sales. “[The ONS report] is treating the UK as a whole, whereas weather, as we know, is localised,” says Terry Makewell, its head of digital and global media. “There are areas that have average rainfall and those that have three times more than the average. You need to make sure that you can target the different areas.”

KFC has tested an online advertising format that allows it to create personalised video promotions that change according to location, the weather and shopper behaviour. The activity uses behavioural and advertising data as the brand seeks to understand how its consumers react to weather in relation to sales of its products. 

Understand the climate – and your consumers

Speaking in January at an event intended to show how weather is an underused ad targeting source, Tom Jenen, Google’s head of marketplace development, said: “Get to understand your customer and their behaviour with weather. Weather is one of those things where you can show the usefulness of the product advertised.” 

Get to understand your customers’ behaviour with weather; it is one of those things where you can show the usefullness of the product advertised

Nokia launched temperature-sensitive outdoor advertising to promote its sensitive touchscreens. The ads use thermo-reactive ink to inform consumers that Nokia phones can be used when wearing gloves. The messages ‘Make love’ and ‘Send texts’ transform into new messages when the temperature drops, becoming ‘Make calls with gloves on’ and ‘Send texts with gloves on’. Nokia also partnered Do The Green Thing’s ‘Glove Love’ project to give free gloves to passers-by and encourage them to put the claims to the test.

Riccardo Webb, Nokia’s social media experience manager, says the company’s Finnish background informed this campaign. He says: “The beauty of Finland is that people have adapted to the conditions, which is why making a phone people could use with gloves on was a no-brainer.”

He adds: “Marketing shouldn’t bore people so using anything in your surroundings, including the weather, is extremely effective at hammering your messages home.”

Unpredictable weather

Stella Artois and Costa both employed weather-sensitive outdoor ads last summer. Having analysed 12 years-worth of Met Office data, Stella Artois found that actual weather, rather than seasons, had a big impact on sales. Mapped purchases of its Cidre product showed that when the temperature rose by 2 degrees Celsius above the seasonal norm, Cidre sales received a boost.

In preparation for last summer’s campaign, the company worked with Posterscope and Vizeum to define new ways of employing out-of-home (OOH) media. Using digital screens, real-time Cidre messages were delivered only when the temperature reached 2 degrees above the norm, verified by a Met Office weather data feed.

Phil Pick, marketing manager at Stella Artois UK, says: “We identified OOH as the perfect channel to give us proximity both to stores and to the outdoor drinking occasions that our target consumers were organising. Using the weather as our ally had a positive impact on sales, with our temperature-activated campaign contributing to a sales volume increase over the campaign period.” [Online pullquote]  

Thermal triggers

The Costa campaign, in collaboration with CBS Outdoor, used thermal triggers to promote the Ice Cold Costa range on the London Underground network when temperatures rose above 22 degrees Celsius. Each location-specific ad directed commuters to the nearest Costa outlet.

Outdoor advertising is not the only medium that can usefully employ weather data. TV and radio weather forecast channels, as well as online sites, can also be fruitful for brands.

Costa partnered The Weather Channel to promote its summer drinks range, with activity running online when the temperature hit 22 degrees Celsius. This resulted in a click-through rate of 0.15 per cent on a homepage takeover, 0.52 per cent on an iPad, 2.72 per cent on a mobile banner and 0.47 per cent for a display ad.

Centrepoint uses Met Office data to run targeted ads as research shows donations are linked to the weather

The Met Office’s mobile app has received 9 million downloads to date and is on 54 per cent of UK iPhones. Its website has programmatic buying with private marketplaces to allow brands to advertise when they wish. Its ‘supercomputer’ can provide the brands with data, such as through Weather Windows, which gives access to data for a 15-day weather forecast.

Return on investment

Makewell says: “We are finding that advertising agencies come to us because [our data and forecasting provide] a better return on investment for their [clients]. In the case of online, you get more conversion. We have seen a higher level of conversions when weather is involved.”

Some brands are using weather to enhance campaigns not traditionally linked to the elements. For example, around the time of the release of the film Despicable Me 2 in 2013, some of The Weather Channel’s in-app branded homepages featured backgrounds reflecting the weather conditions experienced by individual users. During hot weather, the film’s characters were pictured wearing holiday clothes, but they held an umbrella if rain was forecast or wore a look of fear if lightning was expected.

There are limitations to the use of weather data, of course. With forecasts necessarily covering a limited period, bigger TV campaigns are harder to adapt. However, the use of data in these campaigns enables the ad spend to be targeted.

An online weather campaign

WeatherFIT is a pay-per-click (PPC) tool originally developed by Fast Web Media for Bravissimo, enabling the retailer to promote its swimwear range online at appropriate times. The tool allows users to target PPC ads based on current or forecast weather. This can be teamed with analysis of historical sales and weather data for a specific UK city to find any correlations.

During the three-month campaign with WeatherFIT, sales revenues for Bravissimo’s swimwear range increased by nearly 600 per cent, leading to the tool’s adoption by other brands such as Carling.

Clearly, some brands have realised the importance of real-time weather data to their campaigns and they are reaping the benefits. But the industry as a whole has yet to catch on.

At an event held last month, Ross Webster, managing director for EMEA at The Weather Channel, said of weather marketing: “The UK is way behind the US in this area. The US has been doing this for 30 years and we need to start talking about weather as an industry. 

“Weather does not take a fair share of media, but it should do. It’s been undersold.”

Charitable benefits

While the UK’s weather is often unpredictable, a quick reaction to conditions can be particularly useful for some organisations. The Met Office supplies data to youth homelessness charity Centrepoint so that it can run targeted digital ads when the temperature is set to fall to 0 degrees Celsius.

Shormeh Omaboe, direct marketing manager at Centrepoint, says: “We ask for help to get young people into warmth and safety and one of the key things linked to that, which affects whether people are motivated to give, is how cold it is outside.

“It’s a visual understanding of the physical experience young people have. We see more impact and, in some instances, we see our conversions double.”



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