The Profitable Business of Naming Storms | Bruce Turkel

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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