Andy Jedynak, WeatherBug's General Manager, stresses,
"It took years before we launched. For ten years all we did was
build our weather network."
Although Weatherbug is the Web's #1 weather information source,
the whole thing was a test offshoot of parent company AWS
Convergence Technologies' profitable business selling syndicated
weather-related content feeds to 100 local TV stations, and their
educational division which helps thousands of US-schools teach
The Bug was an afterthought. A why not?
Nobody ever guessed it would take off to become one of the most
popular Net-based downloads on the planet, with 17.5 million to
date. This does not mean it was easy to turn it into a money-maker.
"We started at the most inopportune moment," says Jedynak. "We
launched Weatherbug in April 2000 just in time for the dot-com
bubble to burst. It burst within two weeks. But, we were
obviously already at a point where we were committed to it."
The Company had no prior experience in the ad sales or consumer-
subscription sales arenas. Could they make a go of it?CAMPAIGN
Luckily the bug was launched with full cooperation
with AWS' 100 TV station clients, who were happy to help out a
decade-long trusted partner.
Each station agreed to place a download form for the bug on their
Web site branded with their own weather forecaster's name. For
example, San Francisco's CBS Channel 5 site calls it, "Samantha
Mohr's Weatherbug" with a headshot of Mohr next to the download
offer, and Mohr often plugs it on-air.
In exchange, the station gets traffic from its hotlinked logo at
the upper left corner of a live Bug screen. The station gets
extra income by selling a percent of the Bug views in their
Jedynak explains, "It's an inventory split. We share ad
However, Weatherbug could not ask TV partners to sell out all
avails, nor could they copy the pricing or sales model that TV
stations used to sell Bug banners.
"TV really sells inventory in a different way than the Internet,"
says Jedynak. "They sell a combination of on-air avails and Net
avails all mixed up. They sell the sizzle for the program. It's
not a CPM buy at all. We sell to national advertisers and it's
generally a CPM buy."
Weatherbug did not have an ad sales team, and initially it seemed
like a good idea to outsource ad sales entirely rather than
invest in hiring in-house. The decision was a mistake.
"We found advertisers want to have direct access to the
publisher. Middleman selling makes it less comfortable for them.
We abandoned it quickly," says Jedynak. He drew on his own media
sales background and quickly trained an in-house team.
However, selling was still tough because the crash meant selling
millions of eyeballs went out the window (too low a CPM). All
that mattered was differentiating your eyeballs. Proving your
audience was very, very special.
Weather is the most general topic of all. Every demographic
Jedynak immediately began working with the tech team to create a
back-end system to offer niche and specialized units he hoped
advertisers would be interested in, including the following five:
#1. Sliced Demographic
Jedynak has a critical decision to make: Do you go with the
ultra-easy download to maximize your audience-size, or do you add
lots of questions such as demographic data to make advertisers
The latter won. Now new downloads must leap through three pages
of questions, from the first very simple one asking for zip code
only, to a demographic questionnaire including street address and
age-range, to an interests questionnaire with almost two-dozen
Each of the steps is carefully copy-written and graphically
designed to entice as many people as possible to continue through
Interestingly, this means a low-gloss look. The screens are grey
with all-black lettering. (We urge you to check them out for
ideas if you are designing registration forms.)
"Be direct," urges Jedynak. "Explain why you want the
information and give people the opportunity to control whether or
not they get marketed to. Give them the opportunity to say no to
being emailed with offers if you ask for email. Privacy is not
about limiting information you ask for, it's about giving them
control over how their information is used."
The tech team built in the ability for media buyers to place ads
according to various zip codes and demographics in the database.
For example, women in their 20's in Los Angeles.
#2. BrandWrap TM
As Web sites had success selling bigger and bigger units, Jedynak
was inspired to launch a new ad unit in 2001 called BrandWrap
where a sole sponsor could dominate the whole surface of a
Weatherbug for a period of time to the demographic of their
#3. Sponsor Select TM
After seeing how popular search engine marketing was becoming
because ad sales were based on consumers seeking specific types
of advertisers rather than advertisers seeking specific types of
consumers, the Weatherbug team invented Sponsor Select.
"You [Weatherbug users] select a category and then your choice
from a list of sponsors. From the marketing perspective you have
to optimize it. The process has to be fun and interesting and
make people feel empowered."
Jedynak has learned the old direct marketing rule, about items at
the top of a list and the very bottom being chosen above items in
the middle, is also true online.
When a sponsor wants more people to choose their offer,
Weatherbug moves them to the top or bottom of the list.
Unlike search engine ads, Sponsor Select is not sold on CPC or
CPA, it is CPM only. However, the sales team work closely with
advertisers, helping them track and improve click and conversion
rates in any way possible.
The goal is a client who is able to make a side-by-side results
comparison between their CPC/CPA campaigns elsewhere.
#4. Day-part Programming
Advertisers can choose which time of day they would like their ad to
appear, and base day-parts on user zip-codes so they are truly
accurate across time-zones.
#5. Email opt-ins
Instead of just gathering as many millions of emails as possible
and flinging the list on the market, Weatherbug allows users to
uncheck the email box during their registration process.
Then all email campaigns sent to the list are optimized in four
a. Weatherbug branding: The email is clearly branded in
the "From" line and the message itself as being from
"We promote all sponsors as part of our brand. They
appreciate that. It goes back to our core brand. This is
a great local public service, plus national alerts. Why
is it free? We have sponsors who make that possible."
"It's absolutely public service positioning. It's like
people's impressions of Olympic sponsors, it's such a
favorable impression. People love Weatherbug."
b. Demographic selections: Users will not be sent an offer
that is completely off-base for them. "If you pick the
right offers, people actually say, 'Oh ok I'll open that,
it's usually pretty good.'"
c. Limiting mailings: To keep the love, Weatherbug is
very careful with the list. "We have a pretty low
frequency cap. We don't burn out users. Optimal is four
messages a month, we're more like six-eight."
"We'll actually throttle advertisers back. Don't send the
offer you sent three weeks ago. Let's wait until June,
you'll get a better open rate and our customers are
d. Culled list: "We take out 25% of the list that has the
lowest open rate. We do not send them emails. That's good
for advertisers. We're not wasting impressions on the
people least likely to open."
Sponsor Select is Weatherbug's most popular-selling
ad unit, accounting for 40% of total Weatherbug-sold sales.
The Brand Wrap is "getting up towards 40%" now as well, and just
last week the Company announced the launch of a hybrid offer
called 'Choose Another Sponsor' where users can select exactly
which brand wrap they want to see.
Email and traditional banners account for the remaining 20% of
the ad sales income pie. Currently 46% of Weatherbug users are
actively subscribed to the email offers, which means 54% either
uncheck the box during registration or have since asked to be
removed from the list. (Note: 46% is a perfectly respectable
number for a promos-only list.)
Day-part ads account for 0% of sales. Yes, as with every other
online ad sales company we've talked with, Weatherbug can not move
Jedynak says, "Advertisers want age, gender, household income,
zip code. We have not seen one day-part sale."
He has also learned that his reps need to continue to educate
buyers about what works. "It's such an immature industry. Not
everyone's taken the interactive ad 101 course. People don't do
simple things like a clear call to action, click here. You want
a button that looks like a button."
He adds, "A lot of brand managers at the really high end
traditional ad agencies don't understand some of the basics.
It's just got to be repeated for years. And that's ok."
Coming in next week's issue: Case Study Part II: How (and
Why) Weatherbug Sells Subscriptions to Consumers
Sample of local TV station Bug download page: