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Worst Weatherman Best Practices

  |  May 12, 2011   |  Comments

A look at how one brand created a great campaign by stirring up a perfect storm of media.

Ah, to recall the days when planning an online campaign was a relatively simple affair. Identify the client's audience, select the sites, weave in some email marketing and search, and you were off to the races. It's hard to believe what once passed for a comprehensive campaign, particularly when you consider some of today's offerings. The modern digital campaign is rich and interactive, tactical and enchanting. It has numerous touch points, but it also has purpose and character. So where once planners and buyers could polish their online ads and placements until they shone, they must now achieve this same excellence across numerous digital mediums.

To create a great campaign today is to evoke and sustain a perfect storm of media. How ironic, then, that a brand can do it with the help of the World's Worst Weatherman.

Automaker Subaru's recently launched cross-media campaign centers on this character, a guy who just can't seem to get it right. For Subaru, he represents a channel through which to emphasize the brand's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, a valuable attribute of Subaru's vehicles. Using the primary tag line, "The weather doesn't matter if you have a Subaru," Subaru creates an association between poor weather updates that leave consumers mired in uncertainty and its reliable cars.

Placement and Ad Design

As one might imagine, placing ads that demonstrate shoddy weather reporting could be a challenge - particularly on weather sites with a reputation for delivering precisely the opposite. How then did Subaru's agency of record, Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, make it work? With some strategic copywriting. Video display ads on the home page of Weather.com, including an expandable version, lead with the caveat, "This isn't a forecast. It's the world's worst weatherman." It helps that the portrayal of the weatherman is so absurd; there's no possibility of consumers mistaking him for the real thing. The end result is an ad that engages without being misleading.


In a home page media buy on CNN.com, the requirements were quite different. Given the news context, there was no need to separate advertising from site content in the same way; instead, the ads were made to resemble news reports. On the home page of the site, an expandable unit read, "The World's Worst Weatherman?" and was accompanied by a video unit. Subaru took good advantage of CNN's ad configuration by using the suggestive copy, "Is this the world's worst weatherman?" such that the ad, which was placed alongside news content boxes, gave the appearance of a news brief.

"We're using online media to build awareness of the campaign with video-heavy tactics in routine, high impact media channels, like news and weather," said Melissa Schoenke, account director with Carmichael Lynch. Aside from Weather.com and CNN, the campaign will include media buys on Weather Bug, Comedy Central, The Onion, and through media-buying platform Centro.

Social Media and Gaming

These too played a major role in the campaign. TV spots are available on YouTube's Subaru channel, but they also appear on the brand's Facebook page, along with a Facebook application called, "Forecast Showdown." The game pits friends against each other (and the experts) as users vie to deliver the most accurate forecast of the upcoming weather.

Consumers are being given additional choices where online gaming is concerned, and these are based on a secondary campaign theme: the notion that Subaru owners feel so confident in the safety and performance of their cars that they no longer need to worry about the weather, and thus have a lot more free time on their hands. "Conversation Starters" plays with this theme by inviting users to start a new conversation based on a random question. "If you had a Subaru, you wouldn't have to worry about the weather, so you could start talking about more interesting stuff," the instructions say, with options for conversation starters including, "Was it irresponsible for Hansel and Gretel's parents to let them out alone?" and "Why don't racehorses have normal names, like Bob or Mary?"


Another game, which is also available on Subaru's campaign microsite, invites consumers to input their age and the amount of time they devote to checking the weather daily. They are then informed how much time they have "wasted thinking about the weather."

Every aspect of Subaru's campaign, from its ad copy to its online games, reinforces its product message through its chosen theme. More than that, however, this is a wonderful example of how a rich, multi-faceted digital campaign can keep engagement going. There's something for everyone, regardless of demographic profile, online behavior, or digital preference. That perfect storm of digital marketing? It looks like this.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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