Tornado Week: A Twitter Hashtag Campaign For the Ages

In 2013, a then-small digital marketing agency in Atlanta worked with The Weather Channel to create Tornado Week. This natural disaster version of Shark Week utilized the power of digital marketing to create not only a Twitter hashtag campaign, but one of the most successful digital campaigns of the last decade.

The campaign was simple: People across the country and world would tweet or otherwise post on social media using the Tornado Week hashtag, and as the total number of posts increased, so too did the wind that would swirl through The Weather Channel offices – pointed at their interns.

See the full overview of the campaign as well as the massive recognition it received.

We caught up with Kevin Planovsky, the co-founder and principal of Vert Digital, a now-larger digital marketing agency that created the campaign.

First off, how did you land a client like The Weather Channel (TWC)? What was that process like?

Kevin Planovsky: They actually found through a local search for Atlanta digital marketing agencies. The request also didn’t come out of the marketing department but rather the programming team. They wanted to capitalize on Shark Week’s success and create more of a pop culture success. And for there to be a pop culture success, they needed a clever, innovative strategy targeted to youth.

One of the reasons TWC liked our pitch is because in the years beforehand their television ads used movie magic to create what looked like a tornado inside their We came to them with the idea of bringing that phenomenon to life through a Twitter hashtag campaign.

How did you come up with this Twitter hashtag campaign idea?

It was actually inspired by a past project. No idea is unique anymore. It’s all about combining ideas and creating something new. I remember seeing a holiday e-card livestream that featured an office that turned into a snowglobe. If you hit a button in their e-card, a little bit of snow would shake down from above. It was a cute, live remote-controlled experience with limited fanfare and coverage. So, I stuck that way back somewhere in my brain for future creative ideas.

When TWC came to us, they wanted a Twitter hashtag campaign that drove usage thousands of times. The snowglobe idea was still fresh in my mind so I pitched it and they loved it.

Nine times out of 10, a crazy idea like Tornado Week will get shot down in a blaze of glory but clients and companies hire you because of that creativity.

-Kevin Planovsky, Vert Digital

What was the process from that pitch through the conclusion of the campaign?

There were a lot of moving pieces with the physical space. Plus, the livestream software and website needed to be built out quickly along with a paid media strategy.

I’m still blown away to this day that they had enough flexibility to put this together within their four walls. We had no idea how we were going to create the wind – so I called friend who ran an equipment rental company and he helped make it happen. In a situation like this, the client has to be willing to take on some intangible risks and get silly with it.

Tornado Week was a very successful Twitter hashtag campaign, culminating in interns getting blown away in their offices.
The Weather Channel promoted Tornado Week with a landing page where people could watch the simulated natural disaster.

Obviously, this was a very successful campaign that happened many years ago, but is there anything you wished you had done differently?

We were so ahead of the curve on the livestream aspect of the campaign, but we could have gotten some quicker adoption with early-stage influencers. In many ways, some of our earned media coverage such as our appearance on the Today Show was like influencer activation. We also could have mobilized more of the niche TWC celebrities to share it.

The single biggest missed opportunity was not doing it again the following years. Tornado Week is a seven-day period among 365 days in a year and in 2013 that was their priority. Since then, the economic viability of a weather-driven cable news network has shifted dramatically and priorities have changed.

Were you able to turn this success into any new business?

It didn’t turn into new business immediately but we received so many awards and speaking engagements as a result. Being able to talk through the case study and all the awards in a broader scope helped build our portfolio. But directly, $0 came from all the fanfare, much to my dismay.

In the following 12 months we spent a lot of money on awards and travel and events, but then in the seven years since then, we have probably spent that same amount. We learned to focus on business development and didn’t see it coming out of those events.

How would you run this same campaign now in 2020?

Today, we would do it completely differently. It would not be just a Twitter hashtag campaign, but the fans and the wind would be fueled by usage across all social platforms, not just one. Then we would tap into all of those to create the same counter.

RELATED: Social media looks much different now than it did in 2013. Here are some of the major changes and how they impact media consumption today.

I wouldn’t livestream the same thing on the platforms, either. Instead, you need to stream something different on each social network. For example, we could put different TWC anchors on each channel. Jim Cantore could promote it from Facebook inside the tornado, while somebody on TikTok handles it from the Gen Z perspective. Twitch, on the other hand, could be some gamer that plays within the storm. Each platform needs to be unique.

Any advice to entry-level digital marketers?

The number one thing is to know what’s possible. I didn’t do a lick of code or media planning. All I knew was that this was possible and could drive goals while being well-received. Knowing that all of this is possible and being excited about it is why it all occurred. Our success is based on being excited about what’s possible.

Nine times out of 10, a crazy idea like Tornado Week will get shot down in a blaze of glory but clients and companies hire you because of that creativity. Stay up-to-date and don’t box in what you think is possible because you can or can’t do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We were so excited about the concept that we were willing to figure it out.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe and learn about digital marketing each month. We promise you'll see something new!