Home Depot, NBC Craft Ad Spots That Rely on the Weather

Local Forecasts Enhance Weekend Project Message

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," Bob Dylan once sang. But you might need one to get TV viewers to stop ignoring ads. NBC and Home Depot have crafted an intriguing ad break that offers a weekend weather forecast as a means of piquing the interest of jaded TV viewers.

Since last Thursday, the two have run longer-than-usual commercial segments that tell viewers Home Depot is sponsoring a weekend weather forecast. The segments next move to the weather outlook, and, finally, suggest viewers consider home-improvement projects they can tackle (using goods purchased at Home Depot, of course).

"It's an opportunity for us to utilize some national prime-time exposure to deliver that locally relevant weekend weather forecast that's all tied to specific lawn and garden projects," said Mark Dorrill, national broadcast media manager at Home Depot.

About two of the spots will air each week on NBC for five weeks (the first ran last week during Thursday night's "Southland") between Wednesday and Friday, said George Newi, senior VP-group director for Interpublic Group of Cos.'s Initiative, which helped arrange the commercial.

The idea, which requires weather personnel to tape a forecast in the afternoon leading up to when the ads run, illustrates the new complexity of making TV commercials that stand apart from the rest of the 30-second pack. In some cases, a forecaster from the Weather Channel, which NBC Universal and two partners purchased in September from Landmark Communications, offers a regional weekend forecast. In others, a weather personality from one of 50 NBC local affiliate stations talks about whether Saturday will see sunny skies or rain.

Home Depot first approached various media outlets in a meeting last year, and NBC Universal executives came back with the Weather Channel idea, said Shari Post, the network's VP-prime time sales. "It required an incredible amount of resources and time," she said, but the effort is part of a broader trend in the ad business in which clients spell out particular goals, product launches and seasonal needs, then ask media outlets to offer customization and help tailor the promotional effort to specific programming or time of air. Success can often mean winning a broader share of a particular marketer's wallet over time.

Indeed, to figure out a multiplatform effort for the anti-smoking group American Legacy Foundation that debuted last March, Omnicom Group's PHD set out to quiz media outlets about what they might do the next fall. Walt Disney's ABC Unlimited, which crafts cross-media deals, won by creating individual promotional efforts for outlets including ABC, ESPN, Lifetime and ABC Radio.

This sort of thinking is taking more precedence over simpler discussions about how many ads to run. "We like to meet with our partners, talk to them about what our objectives are coming up, and they'll come back. The more information we can give them, the better job they can do when they come back to us," said Mr. Dorrill, who said the idea came together last summer and did not require a premium from Home Depot for the ad time.

NBC has jumped on this idea readily in recent months. The network has begun holding what it likes to call an "infront," or series of meetings with advertisers several weeks in advance of the traditional mid-May window for upfront network presentations. By offering information earlier about its shows, characters and storylines, NBC hopes to entice earlier conversations about ads and how they can tie in to what will be on air. The network has slated a May 4 "infront" presentation to the media, which suggests it will meet with ad buyers and clients around that time.

The Home Depot ads may be somewhat complex to execute, but their subject matter is simple for viewers to understand. The Weather Channel ad pitch has long touted the idea that viewers tune in for short bursts of information that helps them plan their day or week, so DVRs are less of a threat to marketers who buy ads on its air. As such, one theory has it that pertinent weather information can serve as a foil for fast-forwarding.

Both NBC and Home Depot intend to examine viewership data to determine whether the weather ads are bringing lightning in a bottle or clouds on the horizon. For now, said Mr. Dorrill, anecdotal evidence gleaned from social-network Twitter indicates consumers have had a positive reaction.

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