Why you should care
On rainy days, we prefer to be told what to do.
A few years ago, the American Dental Association put out a rather macabre ad about gum disease. The usual beautiful and smiling people with pearly whites were replaced by a large red toothbrush with razors in the bristles and patches of blood in the foreboding background. The ad copy was pithy: “Yeah, it’s like that (gingivitis).”
According to Weather Unlocked, a company that provides weather-based business solutions, the negative ad drove “significantly more sales on dark, gloomy days.” That finding is echoed by a study published in July in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science, which shows:
If it’s raining outside, you’re more likely to respond to ads that have a negative tone.
On the other hand, researchers found that negative-tone ads — with instructions like “Do not miss the opportunity …” — don’t do well on sunny days. When the sun is shining, “you get turned off by negative-tone messages because you want to stay blissful,” says Xueming Luo, a marketing professor and one of the study’s authors. However, on rainy days, consumers generally tend to be more vigilant and are “likely to pay attention to the preventive or negative tone of the message,” says Luo.
The researchers studied the mobile-ad responses of over 6 million users across 344 cities in China by conducting a field experiment: Promotional ads were sent to mobile users and engagement rates were compared with the local weather. The tone of the ad copy was also considered. Leonard Lee, an associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore who has studied how weather affects consumer psychology, says this approach of combining empirical data with field data is “arguably one of the unique aspects of this research.”
While advertisers can’t control the weather, they can still leverage it by controlling the language of the ad …
In general, the study found that consumers respond to ads 73 percent faster when it’s sunny out (as compared to cloudy). However, what’s unique about the study, says Luo, is that it examines how consumer behavior changes with changing weather patterns. For example: “Sales go up when the weather turns out to be better than forecast or better than what it was the day before.” And while advertisers can’t control the weather, they can still leverage it by controlling the language or the tone of the ad copy, Luo says.
The study uses data from Chinese consumers, but Lee thinks the numbers translate to a global audience, given that “the reported results tap into basic psychological factors such as consumers’ response to promotions and weather conditions.”
Weather-based advertising has really taken off in the last few years with more than 200 global brands having earmarked a substantial marketing budget to partner with the Weather Channel, according to the study. “The pervasive effect of weather on consumer behavior extends well beyond umbrellas and ice creams,” says Senya Ryazanov, head of digital at WeatherAds, a weather-targeting platform that provides brands with software tools to create weather-based ad campaigns.
One of the more innovative examples of weather-based advertising comes from Campbell’s Soup. In a 2016 campaign, they added the name of winter storm Jonas into their TV ads and trafficked them as the storm approached, says Amy Benford, senior manager of media at Campbell’s. The most surprising responses they received were from consumers who thought the brand was controlling the weather.
Making ads feel like real life — isn’t that what good advertising is all about?