09/18/2012 11:28 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2012

Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat

Some years back, the Campbell Soup Company stumbled upon a marketing insight worthy of Don Draper.

If you want to predict when people will buy soup, the reasoning goes, you have to look beyond the product. It’s not about the depth of the soup’s flavor, the color of its packaging, or even its price. In fact, it’s hardly about Campbell’s at all.

It’s about the weather.

Consumers buy more soup when conditions are cold, damp, or windy. The question facing Campbell’s was this: How do you leverage this information into sales?

So they did something brilliant. They linked the frequency of their radio buys to the weather of each station. To determine when ads would be purchased, they developed an algorithm called the “Misery Index,” which uses meteorological data to track weather patterns. To this day, if you’re hearing an ad for soup on the radio, there’s a good chance you’re either carrying an umbrella or wearing a coat.

The rationale behind Campbell’s Misery Index is simultaneously clever and obvious, a hallmark of game-changing ideas. But it also raises an interesting question.

If a drop in temperature changes what we buy, what does it do to the way we think?

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