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Weather Promos, Past and Present

Andrew Freedman @ 9:16 AM

As Ernesto slides into the history books as a welcome windswept rain for the D.C. area, the rapid reaction television promo producers are springing up to exalt each station's coverage of the two to five-inch rainstorm. Each station is going to tout their weather team's performance in keeping you safe from the wetness and cool breeze. Many stations now air such promos during such storms rather than afterwards, which makes sense from a marketing perspective. What doesn't make sense is why so many of the promos are staid and ineffective.

Jason Samenow's Sunday/Monday Forecast

Nice Day StampPartly sunny and pleasant We'll be under the influence of weak high pressure building in from the west. After an overcast start Sunday, expect a mix of sun and clouds both days, with comfortable humidity, and highs near 80 degrees. Overnight lows should be 59-64 (suburbs-city).

Check back tomorrow for the complete week ahead forecast.

The weather promo is a peculiar beast. The weather broadcast on is consistently the most popular segment in the local news, so it seems a bit of overkill to advertise for it. Why not advertise that your news team has better time-killing banter than the rival team? That would do a better job of attracting me to your station.

I'm skeptical that the standard 30-second spots, such as this one from WPXI TV in Pittsburgh, Pa., are effective at all. We all know the traditional script: Storm footage, a booming voice, pictures of weathercasters busy at work, mention of a snazzy Doppler radar system and an outro line of "weather coverage you can count on." Although I do enjoy the habit of some stations to add the experience of each of the weathercasters together to state that their team has more than 50 years of experience in local weather. That is almost as meaningless as saying my two brothers and I have 76 years of combined life experience. We still make terrible life choices.

Most of us, I suspect, already had our favorite weathercasters before the promos, and will stick with them in the face of competition. Very few of Topper Shutt's fans are going to be convinced by a 30-second spot to defect to Doug Hill, or vice versa. And those who do are probably swing voters thinking of moving to Ohio. And we all know that one station's Doppler is about as good as any other's these days.

So why not create something new and interesting that's going to catch viewers' attention?

Stations have the greatest potential to pick up viewers by airing unique ads, yet the cautious nature of TV news directors and advertising departments is a barrier to creating anything that hasn't been done before.

I suspect many TV meteorologists also scoff at the prospect of a dramatically different or humorous ad, since they take their science very seriously (and rightly so). However, this misses the fact that TV weather is a blend of science with showbiz and a dose of gimmickry. You have to give in to those other aspects to a certain degree or risk becoming boring and stale. Like CBS was before CSI saved the network.

Anyone remember those Weather Channel ads featuring the weather fanatics at a weather bar? They were brilliant ads because they showed the station had a healthy sense of humor and that it was ok to be a TWC groupie. That's the kind of thing that can distinguish a brand, but they bailed on it.

A good example of an effective 30-second spot is KENS TV San Antonio's recent wedding crasher ad featuring a rained-out wedding ceremony. Although it also uses the ubiquitous tagline of "weather coverage you can count on," it's at least more inventive, and therefore effective, than the standard fare.

My favorite recent promo I've come across is WCCB TV Charlotte's "Wonderful World of Weather" promo. This is the same station that employed the Internet sensation Mark Mathis until he went to rehab, so they're well acquainted with how offbeat antics can attract viewers.

Wonderful World of Weather Promo

The Wonderful World of Weather promo features three TV weathercasters in a rainbow- colored balloon, flying over Charlotte and uniting the community in peace and harmony. It could be a telethon segment, and is refreshingly self-deprecating, which rarely passes the muster of TV execs. There are two people fighting who suddenly stop their altercation when the balloon passes overhead and schoolchildren from around the world who run out to see the balloon as the female singer croons "We hit our target demographics all across the viewing area."

One self-deprecating ad that didn't make it past the gatekeepers was from CBS 42 in Austin, Texas, touting (and insulting) the results of a public survey on their accuracy. The "WeatherRate" party shows a weather team completely unenthused by being rated 20 percent more accurate than its competitors by an independent WeatherRate study. It made fun of the study itself, depicting it as meaningless. This ad skewers the TV news industry's tendency to base hiring decisions on the whims of surveys and likeability factors. It's not a mystery why this was never aired.

The actual ad that made it on air, according to You Tube, is a cartoon version of a standard 30-second spot. A nice compromise, but it doesn't have the same sarcastic bent to it.

There are some older local gems to be found on You Tube as well, including the "You Gotta Go With Bob" ad from WRC-TV in 1989, and a Gary Shore WJLA ad from 1982. The ending of the Bob Ryan ad confuses and frightens me, but it does a good job of depicting the supermarket panic that precedes any D.C. snowstorm. The Gary Shore piece is worth watching to view how TV weather looked like at the introduction of radar for broadcast use, and at the early stages of development of the standardized weather promo.

WRC Go With Bob Weather Promo 1989

I suspect the first-ever promo isn't to far away. And we have the advantage of more than 100 years of weather promo viewing experience.

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