Back-to-School Ad Planning: Eight Strategies from Industry Leaders

Ace your ads and get to the top of the class this back-to-school shopping season. With Americans expected to spend $135.5 billion on back-to-school and back-to-college shopping, planning now is crucial.

Last week, industry experts Megan Stevens, Director at Best Buy Ads, Lacey Tompkins, Group Director at dentsu X, and Rob Knapp, Managing Director at OMD, joined our webinar “Get Ahead of the Class: Why Planning Now Matters for Back-to-School.” Moderated by Callum Donnelly, SVP of Strategic Accounts at Rokt, these thought leaders discussed how to optimize ad performance during this peak spending period.


Here are key strategies shared by our experts to help advertisers make the most of this critical time:



Model practices from Cyber Week

Cyber Week — the high volume ecommerce sales week spanning the week following Thanksgiving — can be a model for back-to-school premium promotions and high-visibility campaigns as well. By taking into account the varying regional nuances and school start dates across the United States from July to September, advertisers can align promotional efforts with unique demographics in different geographical locations.



Embrace the purchase influence of Gen Z 

While parents and heads of households continue to do most of the purchasing for back-to-school, Gen Z students highly influence the buying decisions. When planning ad spending for this time frame, it’s essential to be strategic in your media strategy by connecting with both parents and students separately whether it be through creative iterations or messaging that resonates with their respective interests. 



Innovate with AI and AR to enhance back-to-school shopping

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) are transforming the back-to-school shopping experience, offering personalized and immersive interactions that drive engagement and sales. To effectively leverage AI and AR, brands should focus on: utilizing AI to recommend products based on individual preferences and shopping behaviors, implementing AR to provide “try-on” features whether it be backpacks or previewing electronics in their home environments, and ensure that AI-driven insights are applied across both in-store and online shopping experiences. 



Create a cohesive omnichannel shopping experience by monitoring in-app behaviors

Tracking mobile app behaviors can create a cohesive back-to-school  customer journey by connecting online interactions with in-store actions. Mobile app behavior, such as favoriting products, can indicate interest in products that the customer may purchase in-store.



Provide shopping flexibility by bridging the in-store and online experience

Creating a seamless shopping experience that connects online and in-store interactions is essential for maximizing back-to-school sales. To effectively bridge these experiences, retailers should offer flexible shopping options by offering shop online, pick-up in-store options, enhance virtual assistance, and synchronize inventory and promotions across all channels. By doing so, they can better serve shoppers, ensuring a convenient experience that improves sales and acquisition.



Implement relevant promotions while parents are on the hunt for deals

Families are increasingly adjusting budgets and looking to make cost-effective choices for back-to-school. Best Buy has a unique feature in their mobile app called “Best Buy Drops” that showcases exclusive products to Best Buy that will drop on a certain day. Thinking outside the box can ensure customers are rewarded with premium promotions. 



Leverage loyalty programs as a long-term strategy

Encouraging shoppers to join and actively engage with loyalty programs is one way advertisers can continue to reach shoppers meaningfully beyond peak shopping moments like back-to-school. Leveraging loyalty program data provides a long-term strategy where brands can re-engage customers with relevant offers and products, extending the impact of their marketing efforts. For example,  Best Buy uses its membership program to gather data and insights from customers on how they shop and what they’re looking for to give them relevant offers for back-to-school.



Nail the creative and messaging

Supercharging creativity will be crucial in reaching young audiences during the back-to-school season. Gen Z spends the majority of their time shopping online, so adopting a highly relevant, immersive, and digital-first approach will be crucial in order to grab their attention and consideration. In addition, streamlining creative, messaging, and budgeting is key to maximizing impact. Doing so ensures that  advertisers are serving the right creative at the right time to increase efficiencies and improve the chances for conversion.

By focusing on high-quality, impactful creative and messaging, you can captivate your audience and drive engagement across all channels. This approach not only helps you stand out in a crowded market but also enables you to effectively connect with consumers and drive sales during this crucial shopping period.

Get an A+ on your marketing efforts during this back-to-school time with these expert insights 

For more in depth takeaways from the webinar, register to watch it on demand.