The Profitable Business of Naming Storms

8 responses.

With summer finally showing its sweaty face, those of us who live in Florida are starting to hear about hurricanes again. Just this morning I heard about one of the first named storms of the year — Chantal — which is swirling its way out of Barbados and up towards the Greater Antilles.

Weather-Channel-LogoNewspaper, radio, and TV stations are inviting us to stay tuned for all of the information we need in the event a storm makes landfall nearby. And the uproar about named storms seems perfectly positioned to get us all atwitter and lined up at the local retailers to stock up on hurricane supplies; grocery stores are enticing us to buy can goods and bottled water and hardware stores are reminding us to stock up on flashlight batteries, plywood, and shutter hardware.

But after a winter of freakish storms in other parts of the country, hurricanes no longer have an exclusive on all the “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE” press we see down here each summer. It seems like this year the Northeast and Midwest have also had their fill of sensationalist headlines. It’s gotten so bad that The Weather Channel has even started naming winter storms. According to them, this is to provide a better service for their viewers. Under the headline “Why The Weather Channel Is Naming Winter Storms,” they list their reasons:

  • Naming a storm raises awareness.
  • Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress.
  • A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
  • In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.
  • A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.

Of all these reasons, the one they somehow manage to leave out is that naming storms is good for business. After all, think about how much easier it is to sell special media packages for a storm named Saturn or Triton then it is for an unidentifiable ice event. In fact, look at the following list of names The Weather Channel is using and tell me any other good reason for these names than drama and commerce: Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf, Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn, Triton, Ukko, Virgil, Walda, Xerxes, Yogi, and Zeus.

Brutus, Magnus, Rocky, and Q? Really??!! Those sound more like the names of gladiators facing off against the lions at the Colosseum than a list of snowstorms.

The bottom line is that marketers like to name storms because it’s much easier to spread fear and panic with names than with unidentifiable titles. And when people are scared, they open their pocketbooks. Last year’s Snowmageddon was an excellent example of a terror-inducing label but how many times can we expect the creative people at The Weather Channel to come up with such a humdinger? You may not worry about pulling your kids out of school and buying new chains and shovels if eight inches of snow are predicted, but you’ll surely rush out and stock up on precautions to keep your family safe from Zeus or Khan!

Looking over the list, my only question is how they came up with innocuous names such as Euclid, Gandolf, Helen, Nemo, and Yogi. While Draco sounds blood curdling, Euclid sounds mathematical; Gandolf reminds me of that hairy-foot little troll from Tolkien’s trilogy, Helen was the beautiful woman who launched a thousand ships, and Yogi reminds me of a bearded holy man or Boo Boo’s best friend. And while Nemo might have been chosen because of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it just reminds me of Disney’s hapless little clown fish from Finding Nemo.

The Weather Channel says, “naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.” The cynical marketer in me says the only thing naming winter storms will raise are the little hairs on the backs of our necks and opportunities for the channel to make money.

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  8 Responses

  1. Howard
    on July 10, 2013

    As the old saying goes “Bad news is good news”. If they name a storm (especially with scary sounding names) then they can make it into ‘badder’ sounding news and talk about it more, report on it more, refer to it more, put it in more headlines, etc. Perhaps we should change the quote to “Badder is gooder”?

  2. on July 10, 2013

    “Bad News is Good News.” How apropos. Thanks, Howard, I love that!!

  3. on July 10, 2013

    It is certainly true that naming things gives them a power they wouldn’t have otherwise. Many cultures have elaborate ceremonies for choosing the name for a new human being entering their ‘tribe’.
    In Judaism we wait eight days to see who and how this little person is. Sometimes a second, more powerful name, more like a totem, comes later in life after some type of vision quest, or coming of age ceremony.
    In terms of storms, well, we’ve all been trained to like, to love, to crave media drama. It’s a relatively new drug introduced into the world. Just watch any newscast and besides the talking heads there are any number of other things being shown on screen. Now, while we certainly do want to know about an impending dangerous storm heading our way, by subjecting us to more and more drama laden naming and news casting, all these folks are left with is to get more and more over the top, outdoing each other and themselves.
    It’s like being mad at someone. You can be stern, then yell, then yell louder and louder…but then where do you go? Cross the line and resort to physical violence? Some of these media outlets have long ago crossed the line.
    I agree we need to name things for convenience, but where is the peace in all of this? Where is the eye in this storm of media frenzy? NPR? The New Yorker? Gary Larsen?
    PS: And by the way, Gandolf was the wizard in The Rings Trilogy, not a hobbit…and likely they are referring to the author of such timeless quotes as, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “It ain’t over til it’s over”, “Never answer an anonymous letter”, and “You can observe a lot by watching”…yes, star catcher for the NY Yankees and folk-guru Yogi Berra.

  4. Carla Withrow
    on July 10, 2013

    Are fires next?

  5. on July 12, 2013

    I fear Yogi – the over 80 storm with a gift for malapropism

  6. Alexis G
    on July 12, 2013

    Few Americans realize that the “Spanish Flu” was named such because Epidemic Flu was the lead story in all the Spanish Press. It was no more deadly and did not originate in Spain, but was what everyone was concerned about.
    Why? Spain was neutral during World War 1 and so Battles were not the entire Front Page. Lyme, Connecticut will forever live in infamy , so it’s not just storms,and I totally agree that this is a marketing ploy.

  7. Seth
    on July 13, 2013

    Not sure why you’re criticizing this (if I’m reading it right). What”s a bigger danger, people being less aware of and prepared for a big weather event, or people over preparing for weather events that turn out to be no big deal? I’d be more worried about the boy who cried wolf syndrome. If they overhype Athena, Caesar and Euclid and they turn out to be teacup sized tempests, might audiences pay no heed when Gandalf turns out to be a the real deal?

    And speaking of Gandalf, while you may think of him as the hairy foot troll from the books, I think most people attach a more powerful image to the name, thanks to Sir Ian’s portrayal in the films.

    Which brings me to a bigger point. Gandalf today is not the Gandalf of our youth and the same can be said of storms. Thanks to climate change, weather events in general will become more damaging and it’s important that people be made prepared for them. Yes it’s good for buiness but it’s also good for safety. While The Weather Channel might be capitalizing on something unfortunate, I don’t see any wrong there.

    And you have to give them credit for adhering to at least five of your seven guiding principles: hearts, then minds; make it simple; make it quick; make it yours,; repeat, repeat, repeat. Maybe they read your book.

  8. on July 13, 2013

    Not criticizing, Seth, just trying to point out the real but unmentioned motivation for the storm names.
    It’s my theory that lots of things that happen – in politics, business, media – are done specifically for business reasons and then explained away with other justification. I just want to occasionally point out that the emperor has no clothes and show that the real reason for the action is hidden in plain site.
    As far as my mistaken identification of Gandalf – you’re right, of course. I haven’t seen the Peter Jckson movies and haven’t read the trilogy since high school.

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