Back to School Advertising 2017: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?


School just ended for parents and students, but back to school advertising for the upcoming school year is already in full swing. Lands’ End mailed its fall catalogs as early as mid-June, bearing some backlash on social media from parents whose kids were still in school, while Office Depot rolled out its campaign on June 25th, more than three weeks earlier than last year’s launch on July 16th.

Back to school shopping is the second biggest retail shopping season, following the winter holiday shopping season, making it a significant opportunity for brands to capture sales. This year, back to school spending is expected to be even higher than last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). They are projecting that K-12 and college spending will reach $75.8 billion, compared to 2016’s $68 billion.

With back to school campaigns creeping up earlier than ever this year via print mailers, TV spots, and digital, does the early bird advertiser get the worm, or does it incur the wrath of parents and kids across the U.S.?

Well, it depends.

For some consumers, starting early clearly caused some annoyance as evidenced by Lands’ End mid-June catalog send. But for others who prefer to research early and purchase later, making that information available earlier in the form of inspirational blog posts, discounts, and new products is viewed more kindly as helping them make the most educated purchase decision.

And data from last year seems to indicate June isn’t too early for most shoppers to start researching, and even buying.

According to the NRF’s report on last year’s back to school shopping, the average family with kids in grades K-12 had completed almost half of their shopping by early August. Similarly, AdWeek reported that online conversions in 2016 rose together from July 8th through August 5th, and hits a high season spend from July 22nd to August 25th, until it drops after Labor Day weekend.

Online Research, In-Store Buying

While this data only shows online purchases, the majority (90%) of retail transactions still take place in-store.

Online shopping and research is a two-way street; consumers are not just browsing in-store and then going online for the lowest price, they’re also conducting research online and buying in-store. According to Accenture, 82% of consumers who switch brands say companies could have retained them with more seamless cross-channel experiences.

To have an impact on overall sales, brands must adopt omnichannel strategies that focus on both in-store and e-commerce channels working together.

One of the key elements to achieving the right customer experience across all touchpoints is leveraging first-party data. The Viant Advertising Cloud has a registered user database of 1.2 billion people. By overlaying that first-party data with additional data from partners that have credit card transactional data, loyalty card data, and more, brands can further track sales and forecast purchase habits.

One jewelry retailer recently did this during the holiday shopping season. Seeking to accurately prove efficiency and ROAS across TV, digital, and their brick & mortar stores, the client teamed up with Viant to leverage our cross-device measurement solution to see which channels were truly driving the most value.

By integrating TV ACR measurement into our people-based Viant Advertising Cloud platform, we helped the retailer measure TV ad effectiveness alongside their cross-device digital campaign, which ran across desktop, smartphone, and tablet. Furthermore, the client leveraged our onboarding tool to run the campaign against their customer database of 11 million email addresses, including existing customers as well as prospects who had previously visited their website.

Throughout the campaign, the advertiser provided Viant with a nightly feed of their in-store sales data, which was then matched back to the brand’s existing customer profiles within the Advertising Cloud. This enabled Viant to accurately measure ROAS by connecting customers’ cross-channel ad exposure to their in-store purchases.

To maximize back to school sales, retailers must take a fluid omnichannel approach to their advertising campaigns. This means having a clearer understanding of the consumer’s pathway to purchase, in order to optimize campaign elements and generate the highest return on ad spend.

Learn more about how you can improve your advertising strategies and media planning with our new research with Nielsen Catalina Solutions, The Persuadables: How Advertisers Can Use the Principles of Recency and Spend Level to Boost ROAS. Among the key findings in this research is that targeting heavy brand buyers closest to their next purchase cycle can drive 16x ROAS.



  • #advertising campaign
  • #back to school
  • #omnichannel
  • #recency targeting
  • #retail spending
  • #retail trends
  • #return on ad spend
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