The Weather Instinct

By Sabina Ansari and Victoria Brooks
Agency: Fallon, New York
Client: Weather.com
Category: 2000

Background We were faced with a classic challenge: to reposition a commodity so that it would assume emotional relevance for its target audience. Until recently, weather.com was the Internet arm of The Weather Channel, but a year and a half ago it spun-off as a separate entity. Although it's the market leader in the online weather category, weather.com wanted to mean more than simply The Weather Channel online, to attract more users, and to engage users beyond a quick forecast check. While it had a functional, reliable product, weather.com had neither a clear positioning nor a thorough understanding of its target audience. The company wanted to build a brand that would establish a meaningful relationship with its consumers.

Research Preliminary research made it apparent that while weather was once inexorably linked to life (early survival, cave paintings, ancient religion, mythology, cultural rituals), it has now become compartmentalized in our busy, methodical lives. It was surprising, however, that in the midst of the recent counter-trend towards simplicity, authenticity, wellness and nature, weather has been left in the fray. In order to understand this, we started with the basic hypothesis that the role of weather is as latent as it is powerful; it's so omnipresent that people stop being aware of it in their day-to-day lives. We then set out to test this hypothesis and investigate the role and impact of weather on people's lives, and to isolate the core target audience for our communications. We fulfilled these objectives through a series of focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and mail-in workbooks in a number of cities. For the next two months, we lived, ate and breathed weather.

Methodology & Results Our research was designed to uncover and probe something which we believed is subliminal. At the heart of every question or exercise, we asked people to reflect on their answers and tell us why they felt the way they did. And probe we did, to yield fascinating results.

We brainstormed for impromptu word associations with \"weather\", and were surprised that people mentioned things like \"picnic,\" \"powerful\" and \"energized,\" in addition to the expected, \"wind\" and \"rain.\" We asked people about their coping strategies and their reactions to different kinds of weather, and we unearthed a slew of emotions and instinctive behavior, along with unexpected evolutionary explanations. We helped them regress to a time when weather did something interesting and memorable to them, then probed for emotions and the role of weather in that scenario; we asked them to play devil's advocate and imagine how that incident may have played out had the weather been different. This allowed us to witness their gradual realization and amazement at how much weather affects and controls humans, while they stand by unaware and helpless. We descended in the comfort of their homes and made them examine weather in the context of their lives: their daily routine, family activities, career, hobbies, travel, life events and memorable experiences. We watched them contemplate the power of weather while we observed their environment. We challenged them to be hyper-vigilant towards weather and record their conclusions, and we shared their consequent fascination. We all evolved together, from a rigid, practiced perspective to one that was raw, primal and spiritual.

Resulting Insight The outcome of the research took us back to our original hypothesis. While it confirmed that weather has been functionally compartmentalized, it also revealed that the ancient intrinsic connection between humans and the elements is still present, although latent. After initial descriptions of weather in a perfunctory way, people began to speak of it in relation to events, mood, health, biology, evolution and our genetic make-up: interestingly, the same terms used to describe nature. Some even noticed this analogous relationship and spoke of weather and nature almost synonymously.

We called this inherent relationship to weather \"the weather instinct\" and concluded that although dormant, it transcends behavioral differences and exists in everyone and it can be awoken to embody a connection to the natural world. We also confirmed that no current weather delivery system owned this positioning; in fact, people were unable to attach any personality of emotional relevance to anyone in the weather information category. This was thus the perfect time for weather.com to become people's connection to the natural world via weather.

Strategy This key idea strongly resonated with the weather.com marketing team, and we concurred that in order to do justice to this positioning, the company would have to espouse core values in its culture, philosophy and site offering that would precede advertising. Additionally, the Fallon team suggested changes in the site's content and design to reflect this new positioning. We received an extremely favorable response. An overhauling is currently underway, and proving to be so infectious that it is slowly developing into an umbrella branding strategy with a larger ad budget including not just The Weather Channel, but also its parent holding company and all other offshoots. Since this would be a long-term project, weather.com was interested in launching an intrigue campaign to sow the seeds of the basic idea that weather allows you to connect to your natural world. We decided to implement this in the form of outdoor posters, an interesting play on our positioning idea.

Creative Briefing By now we knew all too well how hard it was to articulate this latent, esoteric relationship with weather and its connection to the natural world. To help our creative team get to where we were, we chose a nice sunny day and took them out of the office to a park, where we sat by a fountain, watched all the people that were out that day, and chatted about how weather affects mood, daily activity and our environments. I then shared our insights with the creative team, taking them through revelatory moments in our research, sharing quotes, pictures and workbook collages. We later watched two brief videos to really spell out our discovery. One depicted people's evolving perspectives on weather through the course of a focus group, and the other was created as a joint effort by a planning and broadcast team to express the human relationship with weather. We let our creative team absorb this raw material for two days, and then reconvened to take them through the creative brief.