With access to relevant weather data and location information — and more than 30 million monthly mobile users — The Weather Channel is well-positioned to take advantage of the boom in hyperlocal ad targeting. The company’s recent partnership with PlaceIQ provides even more ways to deliver contextually relevant ads to mobile users based on location and time. Here, Pat McCormack, vice president of mobile sales and strategy at The Weather Channel Companies, talks more about the PlaceIQ partnership and explains how adding locality to the creative of a mobile ad improves user engagement.
How did The Weather Channel’s new partnership with PlaceIQ come about?
Duncan [McCall, CEO of PlaceIQ] was put in touch with some of the product marketing folks who work on our mobile business down in Atlanta. We get a lot of vendor phone calls, but this one stood out to us once we dug in and understood PlaceIQ’s ideas and their technology.
What exactly does the new partnership mean for TWC, as far as hyperlocal advertising is concerned?
For us, local is our business. If you use our app, or if you go to our website, you can see that when users engage with The Weather Channel, they do that at a very local level. We ask users to supply their city name or their zip code, or even to be located with GPS on their smartphones, so our business is local by its very nature. We are providing personalized, customized weather content, forecasts, and data at a local, local level. That’s one of the reasons why hyperlocal ad targeting stood out to us as being a great opportunity. We have had advanced geo-targeting capabilities on our mobile platform—so, the ability to target at the state, city, and zip code level—for a long time. Now, for us to be able to take this down to the hyperlocal level and use that to infer audience, that’s a really powerful tool for our ad clients.
Do you have any examples of how ad clients can target customers through TWC’s app?
We have all sorts of targeting available through our mobile platform. One that’s unique to us is called weather triggering. We can target advertising based upon the user’s weather conditions. So, we would only serve the hot coffee advertisement when the weather was cold, and [we'd] serve the cold coffee ad when the weather was warm. That’s one of our unique ad targeting capabilities. As I mentioned, there’s a whole host of geographic targeting options, from state, DMA [designated marketing area], and city, down to zip code level. We also provide geo-fencing capabilities.
What’s new with this PlaceIQ partnership is our ability to take location off of a lat/long to infer audience from the user’s location and the time of day. The example we use most often to describe that would be if an advertiser, let’s say a hotel chain, wanted to target business travelers who are likely to be delayed or impacted by severe weather at their airport. [You're] inferring based on the location—an airport on a Thursday evening at 5 o’clock—that you are most likely reaching a business traveler. If it’s severe weather and the flight to Chicago is cancelled, then [they would] likely need a hotel room, and [they] would probably be checking the weather on their Weather Channel app. So that’s a perfect time to hit them with a great offer on a hotel room close by. It’s a perfect way to target.
What has the feedback been from advertisers since you announced the PlaceIQ partnership?
It has been great. We’re launching the new technology with three premium partners; that’s Chevy, Dodge and Frito-Lay. There are others launching with us as well, but they just aren’t named currently. But, it is one of our more popular ad products. I imagine for a team of people who sell ads on our mobile platform, it’s one of the more frequently discussed topics with clients. People are really interested in being able to leverage this new mobile technology in a really privacy-friendly and anonymous way.
Have customers who use the mobile app had any issues with privacy?
It’s transparent to our consumers. They don’t know that they are being targeted with a particular ad because of their location, per say, but this technology is brand new. It’s only been in the market a couple weeks, so we don’t have an official read from consumers just yet. One proxy for this would be things we have done before based on geo-targeting. We have worked with clients in the past to dynamically change the creative to reflect the name of the location where a user is. So, an advertisement for a cup of coffee in New York City might say, “Hey New Yorker, need a coffee?” What we have seen is when we add the locality dynamic to the ad creative, user engagement improves. I think it’s because users are used to engaging with The Weather Channel at a local level. If you live in New York and you turn on your app, the first thing you see is the weather for New York. So, to see an ad delivered in the context of New York—it’s contextually relevant. It’s not like an ad that is randomly served in a game a user was playing, where it’s creepy that the game knew I was in New York. It’s in the context of weather, and this local content makes it interesting and relevant to our consumers.
Why is mobile so important for TWC in general?
We think it’s the future of our business. Users have said in incredible numbers that having a localized and personalized weather forecast on their smartphones is the killer mobile app. Users want to know the weather exactly where they are. They don’t want to know the weather out at a regional airport 15 miles [away]. What they want to know is, is it going to rain on my picnic or at my son’s little league game? We have 30 million monthly mobile unique users, which would make us a pretty substantial wired Internet site on our mobile traffic alone. In fact, we do more mobile page views than we do desktop Internet page views. That crossover happened to us last year. For the industry as a whole, it’s projected to happen at some point in the next one to two years. It just shows that consumers are adopting mobile, when it relates to weather content, at an accelerated rate.
Do you have any sense of which mobile platforms your 30 million users are using?
We track all that, but I don’t know that we really publicize how those platforms break down. But, it roughly follows industry trends. iPhone and Android are our two most popular platforms. We’ve got a relatively new HTML5 smartphone optimized mobile website that’s very popular. We are bullish on Windows Phone as a platform. We are also available on Blackberry and Palm Pre, which was a platform that was a contender a while back. So, The Weather Channel believes in being everywhere our users are to provide that meaningful weather content so they can stay connected.
Now that you’ve come this far with hyperlocal, targeted advertising, what do you see as the next frontier?
There are a number of places where we are investing. We’re continuing to look at new ad formats. We recognize mobile phone screens are small and we want to help lead the industry in evolving and developing new creative ad formats to overcome the limitations of a small screen size. We see ourselves as leaders in the industry and we are not going to sit around and wait for new ad formats to be developed. We are going to develop them ourselves and then help drive the industry. We’ve been doing mobile longer than most media companies, so we intend to continue to lead. I think we will continue to look for new and interesting ways to measure and perform ROI analysis, because click through rate is just one way to look at ad engagement. When you consider new ad formats and rich media ad technologies, there have got to be other ways to measure the effectiveness of a marketer’s investment on mobile marketing. So, we are committed to figuring out how to prove ROI, as well.
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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