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Aug 12
Back-to-school advertising best practices with third-party data

Back-to-school advertising best practices with third-party data

Back-to-school season is upon us, and after an unprecedented last year, we did a lot of learning and embracing new strategies for back-to-school advertising. And this year, back-to-school shopping is making a comeback as parents and students prepare for the upcoming school year. While the school year is still taking shape and has a high potential to continue changing throughout, we have a few tips for the upcoming retail season that will help you plan, target, and leverage your digital campaigns to effectively reach audiences.

The back-to-school bounce back

Families are still in flux after last year. Priorities have been reshuffled and evolving degrees of confidence are emerging regarding physical safety both at school and in stores. The outcome is a hybrid world in which technology plays an integral part in learning and shopping.

Despite the unpredictability of the previous year, back-to-school spending is bouncing back.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend $848.90 on average for each student on back-to-school items—that’s $59 more than last year, per student. The total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $37.1B this year, up from $33.9B last year and an all-time high in the survey’s history. Spending is still on the rise even compared to two years ago in 2019 when American consumers spent an estimated $27.8 billion on supplies for the school year.

Trends to leverage for back-to-school

After a year full of delays, a survey conducted by Deloitte shows 40% of parents expect to spend more on back-to-school supplies, with the majority saying there is a longer list of supplies needed this year compared to last. Back-to-school shoppers are also continuing to prioritize the conveniences that big box stores offer, like online shopping and delivery and pick-up options. Parents expect to spend 39% of their budget at online stores, up from 37% in 2020, another previous peak according to Deloitte’s survey.

The ongoing supply chain disruption has also affected back-to-school shopping as parents have extended the time range for shopping for back-to-school items. Beginning in early July, shoppers have gotten an early start and plan to continue shopping throughout September as they wait for deals from big box stores and retailers. According to an external Microsoft survey, 40% of parents are planning to start shopping two to four weeks before the school year begins, and an additional 24% plan to start 1-2 weeks prior.

The impact on back-to-school advertising

As marketers and brands prepare their 2021 back-to-school advertising, it’s critical to keep the audience’s schooling and shopping preferences top of mind. With a flexible approach, you can develop creative offerings and messaging that reflect customers’ current needs, earn conversions, and build trust.

With nearly two-thirds of parents and guardians expecting their kids to be at their school desks full-time in September, we can expect parents to make up for lost time after last year in quarantine, and you should consider establishing paid campaigns across a variety of marketplace platforms to meet shoppers at the right moment.

With big-box stores being the most popular choice for back-to-school shopping, retail media ad opportunities on e-commerce marketplace platforms like Walmart are worthwhile placements.

The appeal of big-box stores can be partly explained by consumers’ return to in-store shopping and a newfound appreciation of hybrid services such as in-store and curbside pickup for items purchased online.


As you put together your marketing campaign, you should factor in the prevalence of different schooling choices, as they tend to align with shopping habits across regions. Because shopping behaviors mirror schooling choices, regional variations in school policies for on-campus instruction need to be taken into account when it comes to promotions and ad buys. You should factor in the availability and prevalence of in-person instruction as they craft regional strategies.

Many shoppers are uncertain about whether vaccine availability will make them feel safer in stores. For marketers looking to increase in-person shopping, messaging about in-store safety protocols may encourage shoppers who are using pickup services to venture indoors.

With a flexible approach, you can develop creative offerings and messaging that reflect customers’ current needs, earn sales, and build trust.


Third-party data is still readily available to reach specific audiences that have shown intent in the buying cycle. You can search Choozle’s platform to find relevant audiences for your back-to-school advertising campaigns. Below are a few of the data segments available from third-party data partners like MasterCard, Dstillery, Oracle, Dataonics that can be used to reach in-market audiences based on keyword and transactional information:

Alternatives to third-party data targeting are available through contextual targeting technology. Contextual advertising is targeting a campaign based on a page’s content. It affords you a unique and effective avenue to get in front of back-to-school shoppers as they search for the content that interests them most.

Peaks in engagement have been more focused on positive reopening stories. Back-to-school campaigns can leverage these environments to align with consumers in this mindset. Comparisons to 2019 suggest behavior has changed in the aftermath of the pandemic. This means back-to-school campaigns must be planned and executed with real-time data and not rely on previous years’ data.


A consistently strong recommendation for digital advertising campaigns is to not rely on just one channel to reach your target audience. An omnichannel strategy has become a necessity during the pandemic. As consumers begin to venture out of the home again, it will be to your advantage to offer audiences multiple channels for buying that suit their current needs.

The goal of an omnichannel strategy is to keep customers continually engaged with your ads, so that when they are ready to buy, your brand is top of mind, in the right place at the right time. For most marketers, understanding the dynamics of the new cross-channel customer behavior is the easy part. The challenge lies in knowing how to align your marketing programs and ad spend with the influential moments and channels that your audience responds to. Real-time reporting and optimization can help direct your ad spend to continue to reach audiences with effective means that drive conversions.

Back-to-school advertising has definitely been shaken up over the past year, but schools and families are ready to get back on track for the upcoming school year. There are bound to be more changes to come, but with a highly targeted and diverse approach to your back-to-school campaigns, you’ll be able to adapt to the situation and capture a slice of the retail event of the summer.

About the author:

Zack Rosse is a Content Specialist at Choozle – Easy Digital Advertising®. Always learning and connecting the dots, Zack helps translate some of the tougher answers to simple questions marketers ask themselves. Outside of the office, Zack loves hunting for old vinyl to add to his collection and picking up garbage on his favorite walking trails.

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