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Snow, Prayer & the Power of the Hashtag

Fresh on the heels of a record-breaking cold snap that left most of the U.S. in a deep freeze, the words “Pray for Snow” to many might make about as much sense as “Pray for a Tax Audit.” But there are a proud and hearty folk in Northern Nevada and the greater Sierra region who yearn to see their mountains while sailing 60 miles an hour down them atop snowboard or skis, and the more pragmatic sort who realize without a good snow, their lakes and rivers are going to be too low to enjoy come summertime.

  • visual identity
  • posters
  • web
  • social media
  • clothing

For them, “Pray for Snow” is an honest entreaty to the weather gods. And as Reno design firm Stan Can Design has proved, it makes a heck of a good Twitter hashtag, too.

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In November 2013, the company of enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders commandeered the haphazardly used “#prayforsnow” hashtag and made it the basis of a full-on cross-media campaign to – well, just to have fun, really. And also to see what could be done with a strong phrase, simple-but-striking branding, and an urge to ride the social-media wave.

“Anytime you can take a step back from business and create something, truly create something like our Pray for Snow visual – it’s one of the things that makes our jobs so awesome,” says Stan Can Design copywriter Brian Mann.

Mittens 30 Years in the Making
Though launched last year, the campaign began life as a doodle of those aforementioned mittens in the notebook of creative director and president Stan Byers nearly 30 years ago, says Mann. When the time came to get #prayforsnow rolling, “We started with refining the visual with a photo shoot to get our brass angels and white mittens, then later adding the banner and backdrop.”

The resulting image not only became the central one for the campaign’s website and Twitter avatar, it was also the one used for their print materials. One of those, the community one sheet, even won a Silver ADDY award this year; the entire project captured a Gold.

“Our lead graphic designer, Kelly W, had an awesome idea to make it interactive with pull tabs attached,” says Mann of the community one sheet. “The pull tabs each featured a separate ‘prayer’ that people could take with them wherever they go. They were very popular in the areas around Reno that we placed them in, and we are getting ready to do a second round with new prayers.”

In all, about 150 posters and one sheets were printed for press packages and local distribution, and Stan Can Design didn’t stop at paper. They whipped up die-cut vinyl decals, beanies and T-shirts with the #prayforsnow branding, and got them in the hands of the press, before stocking them in their online store along with the posters.

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‘People Like Being a Part of Something’
Stan Can Design’s #prayforsnow project is brilliant precisely because it’s a cross-media campaign created for its own sake. (That sound you hear is the profit-loss circuit in a big New York design firm melting down. No client? For fun? Bzzzt!)

While the company has declined to present it to potential clients as a “proof of concept” project, there’s nothing stopping those prospects from connecting the dots for themselves. After all, anybody is free to go to pray-for-snow.com.

Once there they’ll find a simple website with the iconic praying mittens, a count of how many days it’s been since the last snowfall in the Reno area, and a Twitter stream of all the tweets carrying the hashtag #prayforsnow.

The other part of its brilliance is the aspect that every potential client should heed: the clever-but-subtle way Stan Can Design has transformed a pre-existing hashtag into a ready-made audience.

“People like being a part of something, even something as silly as sending out a hashtag every now and then,” says Mann. “That’s why we’re just trying to foster an amazing online community around this phenomenon of snow, and to see people come together over something special.”

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Lessons Learned Praying for Snow
Like most design firms struggling to move long-standing 20th century sensibilities to the 21st century social media world, Stan Can Design is still fine-tuning #prayforsnow’s online game plan. (At this point we should note that the project’s barely six months old.)

“I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned in the process of this cross-media campaign is that it can only be as strong as the weakest link,” says Mann. “It sounds totally cliché because it is, but it’s certainly true. Our creative is award-winning as we’ve seen, and it’s recognized in our community through engagement with our community posters and word of mouth. However, the social-media interaction needs to meet these expectations, so I’m working to make that happen.”

The use of Hootsuite, which allows you to post to multiple social media platforms at once, has helped Mann keep on top of this.

Another lesson he’s learned: “It does not happen overnight. Studies show that people are more likely to respond and interact with accounts that have more tweets sent rather than followers. It makes sense – if you get approached by an account and it doesn’t look like they’re active, you get suspicious and doubtful. That’s why I’m working to at least post original content once a day and retweet #prayforsnow posts like crazy.”

Without a client to please or agenda to push, the company’s mission is a refreshingly simple one. Says Mann, “We just want to make the Pray For Snow page a community hub for the mutual love of snow.”

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Author: Aaron Berman

A former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman is also the editor of PaperSpecs, and covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime.

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