104: Natural Disaster Advertising?

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.comOn the night of June 29, my house went black.  My neighborhood went black.  Most of my city, too, while we’re at it.

I later learned that a storm had wreaked havoc from Indiana to the Atlantic Coast.  I heard that one of my local Walmart Supercenters lost over a million dollars worth of perishable food; restaurants lost thousands of dollars of freezer inventory; hospitals went to triage mode with backup generators; lines at the few gas stations that had power stretched for as much as an hour for people to pump $5 rations of fuel; and Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest temporarily ceased operation, as their servers fell victim to the power outage.

Utility crews from around the country migrated to help literally millions of Virginians without power.  Even with all the outside help and local linemen putting in 140-hour work weeks, it took as long as eleven days for power to return to all parts of the greater Lynchburg area.  My home office was fortunate to be without power for only 112 hours.  While I had to take cold showers, sleep on my basement floor to beat the 100º daily heat, and move my office setup to my wife’s Main Street studio, those relatively small inconveniences paled in comparison to those of the people who literally lost their homes or even their lives.

The culprit for these millions of dollars of damage? A derecho—a unique kind of windstorm that doesn’t swirl in the pattern to which we are accustomed.  Instead, a slightly-bowed wall of clouds bulldozes across the landscape, pushing powerful winds in front of it.  “Unlike other thunderstorms, which typically can be heard in the distance when approaching, a derecho seems to strike suddenly.  Within minutes, extremely high winds can arise, strong enough to knock over highway signs and topple large trees.”

In about 30 minutes, probably less, my city was crippled; and roads lined with stately trees became disaster areas.

If this (Spanish) word, derecho, is new to you, know that it was new to me, too.  I have a feeling I’ll be using it long after this storm tops my local news, though.  See, the advertising that I help auctioneers leverage follows the derecho’s pattern.

Unlike private listings, consignment retail, or traditional brokerage, my clients know how long their asset will be on the market.  And that amount of time is short—days or weeks, very rarely months.  Since an auction asset’s carrying costs have a defined end and since the amount which can be spent on marketing is also known, auctioneers can concentrate their expenditures within a small window of time.  They don’t have to hedge their bets, wondering how much they’ll have to invest and for how long.  Auctioneers can multiply the impact of their event’s core message across a wide but shallow wall of media, sometimes as little as a week deep.

There aren’t a lot of message changes in auction marketing campaigns like political campaigns exhibit.  You won’t see a glut of impressions per media as with Fortune 500 branding campaigns (think: NFL game TV commercials).  There are rarely focus groups and multi-pronged audience testing like those used for product launching campaigns.  Instead of slowly spinning toward landfall like a hurricane and sitting down in areas of low pressure, auction campaigns push the market with a sense of urgency.

The risk in an auction’s concentrated marketing campaign is that the perfect buyer or strongest bidder might not be available, ready to purchase, or engaging with pertinent media during the advertising’s lifespan; but that risk applies in some degree to all advertising.  More and more, I’m convinced that the challenge of finding the right people at the right time is (1) the reason biplane productions has stayed in business and (2) the opportunity to prove the auction method’s value proposition to sellers tempted to sell their items on their own.

The danger of auction marketing derechos is that it can create incredible goals for branding outside of auction campaigns.  Despite dropping back to fewer media, we’re tempted to expect similarly-immediate results.  The honing of a core message as well as the creative representation and application of that message should take much longer than the standard assembly-line auction workflow.  While there may be occasions for media blitzes or public relations urgency, the time and effort spent in brand building and brand management should be somewhat proportional to the time it’s expected to last.

I don’t know if it’s appropriate to compare what my clients and I do for a living to a deadly, expensive natural disaster.  That said, if the advertising we generate could engulf our buying community like Derecho 2012 has my physical community, we’d all have the job security of an American Electric Power lineman.

Outside of backpacking trips, I’ve never been without electricity for as long as we endured last week—let alone during a string of days north of 100º.  People a generation ahead of me opined about how the blistering heat of their un-air-conditioned youth resembled that week every summer.  Friends from my generation talked about realizing how dependent we are on gadgets and conveniences.  Everybody else was watching a movie in an air conditioned theater, swimming in a friend’s pool, or lining Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, waiting for a table.

My takeaway from Derecho 2012 was a consideration of response.  How do we—how do I, specifically—respond to setbacks beyond our control?  I’ve long struggled with that.  Along my spiritual journey, this has been one of the main sections of road construction—one I’ve too often taken too long to traverse because of exploring my own detours and finding them dead ends.  For too long I blamed God as much or more than myself for sticky situations.  I questioned his goodness, despite the overwhelming evidence of it in the macro view of my life.

This storm gave me another test in this area.  It might sound small, but I paid attention in this challenge to small things like praying for others instead of myself, not worrying about bridge crossings until I got there, and making my social media comments humorous or journalistic instead of whiny.  Rather than worry about the billable work time lost, I embraced the lost grid with an unconstructive weekend and reconnected with friends.

Sometimes, progress is measured in inches instead of miles.  Mine, anyway.


†”Derecho,” Wikipedia.com

[footer] Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

1 comment

  • Sue Downs-Loyd

    While it is hard to look at setbacks in a positive way, I agree Ryan, that we must, afterall.
    There has been some wonderful outreach from unlikely sources in the midst of Derecho in Central Virginia, and kindness has reached so much farther than whining!
    From individuals, churches, schools and other facilities who had power offering their space to those that did not for ice, water, meals and sleeping quarters to signs along the road offering bottled water to thirsty souls and residents offering what little they could to line workers, we are rich in deed. Not only have I seen organizations step in to help the newly homeless, but individuals too who otherwise would not reach out. When faced with adversity, we must pull together. We are in this together!

    It’s helpful to also remember;

    2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2-3

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