As summer draws to a close, a new season approaches, signaling students to pack away their beach towels and sunhats and pick up their long-forgotten school bags. It's the season of fresh notebooks, eager minds and the promise of new beginnings. For advertisers, it's also a crucial period known as back-to-school — a time when strategic campaigns can capture the attention of both students and parents preparing for the academic year ahead.

In this article, we'll talk about what's happening in the back-to-school market this year, what are the buying trends and what approaches are best to follow when crafting creatives for back-to-school advertising campaigns.

When is the Back-to-School Season?

The back-to-school season typically spans from late summer to early fall, with the exact timing varying depending on the region and educational institution. In many countries, it kicks off in July or August and continues through September. This period aligns with schools and colleges reopening after summer break, making it a prime opportunity for advertisers to engage students, parents and educators.

Who is the Main Audience of Back-to-School Advertising?

The main audience of back-to-school advertising includes students of all ages, parents and educators. Students are gearing up for a new academic year, parents are making purchasing decisions for school supplies and clothing and educators are preparing their classrooms. This diverse audience seeks products and services that cater to education, learning, organization and personal growth, making Back-to-School advertising a pivotal opportunity for brands to connect with a wide range of consumers.

Back-to-School 2023: Brief Overview

Let's look at some numbers. In 2023, US customers planned to spend an average of $95.03 on school supplies for college admissions. At the same time, based on Business Wire data, the total cost of back-to-college school supplies in the US will increase from $13.14 Bn in 2022 to $16.88 Bn by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 5.14%. So what happens, everything is so rosy and the market will only grow? Not really.

The overall growth rate of back-to-school sales is far from the sharp 13.2% surge we saw in 2021 — mainly due to the return to in-person education. This return forced parents and guardians to buy new uniforms and different clothes for K-12 students and college students to buy two years’ worth of dorm-related purchases. Then in 2022, the 5.5% growth seen was mainly due to inflation.

Important fact: two different back-to-school forecasts from the National Retail Federation and Deloitte, based on consumer surveys, offer completely different perspectives on the current season:

  • According to the National Retail Federation forecast, spending on K-12 students will rise 10.8% to $41 billion, while spending on college students will rise 27.0% to $94 billion.
  • Deloitte's forecast suggests that K-12 spending will decline 9.3% to $31.2 billion.

The substantial difference in growth projections can be attributed to the wide range of expectations for technology-related acquisitions. NRF's optimistic outlook is fueled by the anticipation of robust growth driven by significant electronics purchases, with 69% of surveyed respondents expressing their intention to buy electronic items or computer-related accessories this year. In contrast, Deloitte holds a contrary perspective, forecasting a decline of 12.8% in technology-related expenditures.

Back-to-School Shopping: Parents' Party

Among the frequently purchased BTS essentials by parents are clothing, accessories and school supplies, such as books, pens and backpacks. Interestingly, this year, a significant focus was on electronics: American parents anticipated spending nearly $300 on average for computer equipment.

Many BTS shoppers also opted for preconfigured supply kits offered by schools, often due to their economic and convenient nature. However, one in five parents bought them to support a parent-teacher association (PTA) or other local charities.

Back-to-School Shopping: Students' Party

While parents typically handle the acquisition of school supplies for their children during the back-to-school season, there's a notable trend of pre-teens and teenagers in the United States also using their own funds for such purchases. Specifically, in 2021, pre-teens spent an average of $40, while teenagers paid $45 out of pocket for school items.

Even when students themselves aren't making the purchases, their preferences significantly impact the decisions of parents or guardians. In the case of clothing and accessories, for instance, approximately four out of five parents mentioned that their children's desires moderately to highly influenced the final purchase choices.

Back-to-School Ad Campaigns: Proven Tips

Navigating the bustling landscape of back-to-school shopping requires more than just the right products – it demands a strategic and creative approach to capture the attention of parents and students alike. We have prepared a list of proven tips designed to empower you to create campaigns that not only resonate but also drive impactful results.

  1. Early start: Begin your back-to-school campaign well in advance to catch the attention of early shoppers and build anticipation for the upcoming season.
  2. Segmented audience targeting: Tailor your ads to different age groups and educational levels to maximize relevance and engagement.
  3. Promotions and discounts: Offer special deals, discounts and bundles on school essentials to entice both parents and students.
  4. Highlight trends: Showcase the latest fashion trends in clothing, accessories and school supplies to appeal to style-conscious shoppers.
  5. Interactive content: Incorporate interactive elements like quizzes or polls to engage your audience and make your campaign memorable.
  6. User-generated content: Encourage customers to share their back-to-school preparations using a unique hashtag, increasing brand visibility and authenticity.
  7. Influencer collaborations: Partner with relevant influencers who resonate with your target audience to amplify your campaign's reach and credibility.
  8. Local targeting: Utilize geotargeting to reach shoppers near your physical stores, offering them personalized incentives to visit.
  9. Post-purchase engagement: Follow up with customers post-purchase through targeted emails or ads, showcasing complementary products or encouraging reviews.
  10. Educational content: Provide helpful content like study tips, organization ideas or how-to guides to position your brand as an educational resource.
  11. Social responsibility: Incorporate social responsibility by partnering with nonprofits or supporting educational initiatives to resonate with socially conscious consumers.

Many of these tips sound familiar, but by listening to them, you can set your back-to-school marketing efforts apart and position your brand for success in this dynamic season.

The Power of Contextual Targeting for Back-to-School Campaigns

Special attention should be paid to contextual targeting. It is crucial for back-to-school campaigns because it allows advertisers to reach their audience in the most relevant and timely manner. Back-to-school season is characterized by specific consumer behaviors, needs and interests, making context paramount in crafting effective campaigns. By aligning ads with content related to education, school supplies and academic preparation, advertisers can engage users when they are actively seeking information about these topics.

For example, a parent is prone to peruse articles that offer guidance on getting their child ready for the initial school day. Through contextual advertising, you can position your ads for back-to-school apparel, accessories or technology products on such pages. This approach ensures your advertisements connect with your intended audience when they are open to receiving information.

For your information: MGID has its own contextual targeting solution called Contextual Intelligence. It allows advertisers to effectively target ads without the use of third-party cookies. Moreover, this technology uses proprietary artificial intelligence algorithms to read the content of the material, as well as assess the context and sentiment of the article. Content is identified and marked in accordance with IAB Tech Lab Content Taxonomy 2.2 standards. Advertisers leverage MGID's solution for precise ad alignment with relevant content and improved ROI through brand safety and sentiment targeting.

Bonus: How to Make Your Back-to-School Advertising Creatives Irresistible

Our creative department is well versed in how to craft creatives for various advertising campaigns. We have selected the most valuable tips that will allow your ad creatives to stand out in the crowded back-to-school advertising landscape, captivating viewers and driving engagement that leads to meaningful conversions.

Tip #1. Capture emotion with images: Incorporate relatable images of people, especially students and parents, to evoke emotions and forge a connection with your target audience.

Tip #2. Showcase benefits: Highlight how your product or service can enhance the back-to-school experience for students and parents, emphasizing convenience, affordability and quality.

Tip #3. Provide relevance: Ensure your ad's image and headline align seamlessly to deliver a cohesive and clear message that resonates with viewers instantly.

Tip #4. Use vibrant colors: Opt for vibrant and energetic colors that evoke a sense of excitement and positivity, aligning with the fresh start of the school year.

Tip #5. Highlight exclusive offers: Promote exclusive deals or bundles tailored for the back-to-school season to entice viewers with added value.

Tip #6. Create urgency: Integrate phrases like "limited-time offer" or "back-to-school sale" to prompt immediate action and boost engagement.

Tip #7. Keep it concise: Craft concise and impactful copy that conveys your message effectively within seconds, catering to short attention spans.

For your information: AI technologies have surged forward at a furious pace, and we have not failed to take advantage of this. MGID's integration with OpenAI DALL·E 2 allows you to generate images from text prompts. This feature helps brands create 100% unique and imaginative visuals that have a 20% higher click-through rate (CTR) than stock images. And yes, it’s free.

Wrapping Up

As the back-to-school season emerges as a significant retail phenomenon, the importance of well-crafted advertising campaigns cannot be overstated. Navigating this competitive landscape requires a deep understanding of consumer behaviors, preferences and trends. By strategically aligning your campaigns with the needs and desires of students, parents and educators, you can create impactful connections that resonate long after the school bell rings.

In the end, the back-to-school season is not just about preparing for another academic year: it's about creating memories, fostering learning experiences and building lasting relationships. As you embark on your Back-to-School advertising journey, remember that your campaigns hold the potential to influence and shape this transformative time for countless individuals. By embracing innovation, creativity and a deep understanding of your audience, you have the power to make this back-to-school season your most impactful yet.