Price, Value, Location, Context: Advertising Rules For Back To School

From Lauren Sak, Senior Marketing Director, Intersection

With inflation on the rise, what advice would you give to brands surrounding back-to-school shopping? 

It’s no surprise that consumers are feeling the effects of inflation everywhere, from the grocery store to the gas pump, and well beyond. During periods of inflation consumers typically cut down on what they feel is discretionary spending. However, research suggests that back-to-school spending this year may be relatively steady. In a recent Harris Poll study, 75% of consumers reported that they were likely to spend more than previous years (which also could have a direct correlation with inflation). With all of that in mind, it becomes even more important for brands to hold (or increase) their planned spending for back-to-school (and the other key promotional periods that follow). Advertising will be critical to capturing a share of that planned spend. Also of note, consumers are most likely to do their back-to-school shopping in-person, at retail stores. If you’re a smaller, direct-to-consumer brand or retailer, you’re going to have to work even harder to redirect consumers to your offerings.

What components make a brand's back-to-school campaign stand out from the rest? 

There should be zero doubt in any brand’s mind that given the current economic climate, price is going to be the number one motivator for back-to-school shoppers. In that same Harris Poll study, 70% of consumers reported that price/promotion/sales is what motivates them the most when it comes to making purchase decisions. It’s clear that a value-focused message is going to help brands who want to win with consumers. How can your ad convey that your brand can provide shoppers with the most value for the lowest price? It’s really that simple. Another consideration is to rethink the role each channel is playing within the context of your media plan. There might be certain channels you’d usually dedicate to a broader, brand building message— like television/video and out of home. Now would be the time to really think about amping up pricing and promotion focused messaging in all channels.

With the pandemic causing online schooling the past couple of years, how has back-to-school advertising evolved? How can you make sure your brand's advertising cuts through the clutter? 

Regardless of online or in-person schooling, it’s all about price and value. I think certainly more than in previous years, there’s an opportunity to specifically speak to online schooling within the context of your creative message.However, the fact remains that school supplies are a necessity whether students are learning in a traditional setting or at home. Hybrid setups in particular pose an interesting challenge to brands and consumers around making efficient purchase decisions that ensure success in either environment. Given that not everyone may be sending their children (or themselves) to a traditional school environment, I think location and context is going to play a big role in cutting through clutter. If you think about a channel like out of home, there are ways to reach potential shoppers not just near their school or home, but near the point of purchase. We know that consumers are making less “impulse buys,” so advertising close to the point of purchase can help “prime” shoppers to look for your brand or product during their back-to-school shopping journey.

What are the most important factors that should be accounted for within the retail industry when it comes to brand advertising?  

I think it boils down to three things, all which we’ve already discussed. First, spending holds (or increases). Make sure that in the face of inflation, your advertising budget is not the thing that gets cut. Second, focus on a message that drives value (or more specifically, savings) for consumers. And lastly, really invest the time to understand your audience, their changing needs, and where they’ll be most receptive to your message.