Back to School Advertising in 2021: 4 Ways Retailers Can Move to the Head of the Class

08.03.2021 Sara Brasfield2 min

After a long year of distance learning, online and in-store retailers are anticipating what might be the biggest back-to-school shopping season in history. Industry analysts are projecting a back-to-school shopping increase of 16 percent across the United States, resulting in all-time highs for gross back-to-school spending.

Several factors are driving this spending spree. For one, the return to on-campus schooling will increase the need not only for school supplies, but also clothing, backpacks and other gear required over the course of the school year. After a school year spent mostly at home, parents and children alike might be more motivated to splurge on back-to-school shopping than in years’ past.

Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit is hitting checking accounts just as parents plan their back-to-school purchases. This influx of income will increase the spending power of households as they ramp up their spending in retail stores ahead of the school year. Analysts note that even if only three to four percent of the child tax credit’s distributions were dedicated to back-to-school purchases, it would increase overall back-to-school spending by as much as $6 billion.

With that kind of opportunity waiting on the horizon, retailers should be hard at work building an advertising strategy that helps them cash in on the back-to-school season. As you plan out your advertising, here are some tips to connect with your target audience.

1. Diversify Ad Channels To Reach Customers Where They Are

Like every other shopping vertical, back-to-school shopping has become increasingly fragmented across a broader range of advertising channels. On top of this, retailers aren’t just targeting parents through their ad campaigns: School supplies, clothing and other back-to-school gear can also be targeted to school-age children who can then ask their parents to purchase those items.

Given this broad audience’s presence across disparate ad channels, retailers are likely to get a better return on ad investments by diversifying their approach. Traditional ad campaigns via cable TV and direct mail can be combined with digital ads targeted to consumers through social media, paid search, display, and other ad channels. Identify your target audience and then use ad targeting tools to reach them in a cost-effective manner.

2. Emphasize Apparel as an Essential School Supply

Think of it as back-to-school on steroids: After a year spent largely, and maybe entirely, at home, kids are eager to show off their new selves when school resumes this fall. Clothing may not have been a top priority during the pandemic, but it’s expected to be in high demand as school-age kids choose the styles they want to wear for their return to school.

Retailers shouldn’t overlook the importance of clothing—including shoes, jackets, winter wear, and other accessories—to students who have heavy influence over the purchases their parents make. Highlighting new arrivals and back-to-school discounts can help you draw in children eager for a makeover before the new school year begins.

3. Leverage Out-of-Home Advertising for Customer Engagement and Promotional Campaigns

For many retailers, one of the more surprising trends anticipated for 2021 is the increased influence of out-of-home (OOH) advertising campaigns on the shopping habits of school-age parents. A recent survey of U.S. consumers found that 53 percent of Americans are using OOH ad campaigns to navigate their return to normal on the retail shopping landscape.

Three out of every five consumers surveyed said they would be using OOH ads to guide back-to-school shopping decisions. This includes using OOH to discover discount codes and other promotions through the use of QR codes, NFC ad delivery, and other OOH campaigns.

This trend might be driven in part by the increased use of QR codes as a touch-free alternative to restaurant menus, pamphlets, and other forms of printed content. As consumers become more comfortable using QR codes in their daily lives, these can be displayed on billboards, in-store signage, and other OOH advertising to increase shopper engagement and reward interactions with branded content.

4. Get an Early Start On Back-to-School Advertising

With longer school supply lists and greater concern about availability of those supplies, many parents are starting their back-to-school shopping earlier than usual.

Fortunately, the bulk of this shopping season still lies ahead for retailers. But the early start is all the more incentive to roll out advertising earlier than is typical for your business. By starting campaigns early and targeting consumers who are anxious about stocking up on school accessories for their children, your business can increase the back-to-school selling season, capture more revenue, and build a stronger local reputation as a back-to-school shopping destination.

The back-to-school shopping season presents a window of opportunity to maximize your advertising ROI. A digital advertising partner can help you optimize campaigns for fast success, raising the ceiling for revenue during a crucial retail season. Don’t wait any longer to build a winning back-to-school strategy—contact us today to get started.

About the Author

Sara Brasfield

Sara is a Marketing Manager on Cox Media’s corporate team in Atlanta, with a passion for writing and delivering relevant insights for advertisers. With more than nine years of experience in B2B marketing, Sara aims to help Cox Media’s current and future clients connect with their customers find new and unique ways to grow their business. Outside of the office, Sara loves spending time running, reading, and supporting her favorite sports teams (Go Braves & Gamecocks!).

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