Back-to-School Advertising Isn't What We're Used To This Year

Featured in TotalRetail

By: Oz Etzioni, CEO of Clinch –  August 24th, 2020

The 2020 back-to-school season is going to look very different this year. Following months of remote learning and virtual classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states across the country are uncertain about returning to school in the fall. This leaves a huge question mark in retailers’ campaigns for one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. According to a recent Back to School Index, 77 percent of consumers expect a different back-to-school shopping experience this year, with 41 percent planning to primarily buy supplies online, and 25 percent planning to order online for in-store pickup. With this in mind, what should marketers do to execute successful advertising this back-to-school season, and what should they avoid?

The Dos and Don’ts of Effective Back-to-School Advertising

Do figure out how to accommodate shorter timelines. Consumers are faced with uncertainty as they await to hear plans from their local school districts. This has sparked a general hesitation to make back-to-school-related purchases until they know what the plans will look like. But regardless of whether learning happens in the classroom or in the kitchen, consumers are actually slated to spend more than the 2019 back-to-school shopping season. There’s a huge opportunity for brands that can quickly adapt their messaging to reflect the release of new trends and guidelines as they emerge.

Do implement granular personalization parameters to resonate with consumers. Advertisers need to keep in mind that the “new reality” for Americans this coming school year will be different from state to state, and even county by county, therefore, they need to ensure that the content they produce is as relevant, personal and geographically applicable as possible. For example, if a consumer prefers curbside pick up over in-store shopping, brands should factor that element into their digital messages, and create ads that feature the store with the closest proximity to the specific customer viewing it.

Don’t try to salvage your original creatives if there’s even a chance that they go against the current social climate. In the wake of the pandemic, a tone deaf ad can cause significant damage to a brand. Showcasing ads that display large gatherings, no face masks, and no social distancing would spark immediate backlash from the 66 percent of parents who are anxious to send their kids back to school, as would showing a back-to-school ad that features a classroom full of mask-less students and teachers.

Do update product features and promotions to reflect real-time, in-store inventory. The majority of consumers want to make their shopping experience as efficient and contactless as possible, especially given the potential health risk of prolonged time spent indoors in narrow aisles crowded with strangers. Savvy retailers understand that they can’t effectively work in silos, and must build synergy between their marketing strategy, on-site operations, and the various channels they’re using to deliver brand messaging. Today’s reality dictates that if you don’t do that you will lose customers.

Don’t limit your ad distribution to a single channel. There’s a common misconception among advertisers that broadening their distribution strategy requires additional time and resources, but that isn’t always true. By taking an omnichannel approach to your campaigns, you not only expose your brand to a larger audience, but gain deeper and more valuable insight into your customers. These insights can help you optimize campaigns across other channels for more effective marketing strategies, and yield better ad relevance for your customers — and better outcomes for your brand.

COVID-19 has been an accelerator of change. It has created a new reality where fast adjustments of process, budget and time are essential. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming back-to-school season, you can be sure that retailers that can adapt to changing consumer preferences and deliver the right degree of personalization will build new levels of trust and confidence with their customers, which leads to longer lasting relationships.