Brands Buy Real-Time Mobile Ads Based on the Weather

Ace Hardware, Taco Bell, Seamless

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This past winter, Ace Hardware tested location-based mobile ads before and after snowstorms to pitch items like shovels and de-icers. Buoyed by the results—and underscoring how brands have begun using the weather to target on-the-go consumers—it now plans to buy mobile ads when the temperature is optimal for green thumbs to get planting, hoping they’ll need the retailer’s fertilizers and other garden products.

“We want to reach folks in real time and help them deal with the weather as it’s coming,” said Jeff Gooding, Ace’s marketing director. “The idea of helping has traditionally been part of our brand, and it’s becoming a part of our mobile strategy.”

Sensing a chance to nab more ad dollars, Twitter and The Weather Channel (TWC) last week announced an agreement centered on a new weather-based ad-targeting product. Twitter says that 60 percent of its massive audience derives from smartphones—where users will be seeing Promoted Tweets thanks to the TWC deal. And based on certain forecasts, Taco Bell, Seamless, Delta (airlines), Farmers, Goodyear and others have fallen in line with Ace Hardware, targeting nearby consumers via mobile ad networks such as MoPub and Jumptap and—in a lot of cases—TWC’s popular smartphone app.

Taco Bell, for instance, is running mobile ads through May on TWC’s app but only when the local temperature exceeds 48 degrees. The quick-serve restaurant wants to pay for mobile inventory only when the weather beckons consumers to head outside for burritos or chalupas, explained Eric Perko, associate media director at Digitas, Taco Bell’s digital agency.

“This is a new tactic for us,” Perko said. “For the right products, like food, it makes a ton of sense.”

Indeed, for the restaurants niche in particular, mobile may finally be fulfilling its long-held promise of digitizing old advertising staples like roadside marquees and sidewalk chalkboards. In an extreme weather-related example, Andrew Rosenberg, marketing director for New York eatery The Meatball Shop, nimbly authored a post on his brand’s Foursquare account five months ago to let customers know when his Hurricane Sandy-rattled business would reopen.

“A lot of them without power couldn’t get on their computers but still had juice in their phones,” said Rosenberg. “The minute we opened our doors again, people started coming in.”

But planning for the short term appears to be priority No. 1. Mobile advertisers like Steven Young, marketing director at digital food delivery service Seamless, are almost surgically focused on real-time opportunities around the daily climate. “We balance capitalizing on weather changes that may be one-hour long versus those that could be a whole evening of rain,” said Young.

Paul Gelb, MoPub’s head of strategy, said mobile marketers will increasingly piggyback on blizzards and thunderstorms because contextual ads work. “We are just beginning to see the potential of these opportunities because we are now able to reach people in ways that we couldn’t before,” he said.

So next time you see a bolt of lightning, don’t be shocked if your phone gets zapped with ads.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.