Driving Efficiency and Effectiveness:
PwC Evaluates the Smartly Platform


Don’t Flunk the Test - How to Get an A+ on Your Back to School Campaigns

June 6, 2019

Back-to-class, which combines both back-to-college and back-to-school students, is a milestone in many people’s lives that spans genders, socioeconomic backgrounds and ages. After the holidays, back-to-class is the second-largest shopping season in the US. In fact, shoppers spend more on back-to-school and back-to-college than consumers spend on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day combined¹ - in 2018, $82.8 Billion was spent on back-to-school purchases, and an average $322 spent per child, $501 spent per household¹.

When And How Are People Shopping? 

Let’s take a look at the back-to-school timeline, which is a longer shopping season than most major shopping holidays. It typically starts in July through to September, as there has been a clear shift as shoppers start stocking up earlier in the summer (or winter, for our Southern Hemisphere friends). Very few shoppers start during the last weeks’ of August, which is typically thought as the peak back-to-school season.


Back-to-class sales are dominated by clothing and accessories, with an estimated $15.1B spent in this category in 2018, however surprisingly electronics happens to represent the largest proportion of spending with 64% of freshmen stocking up on new electronics like laptops, TVs and gaming consoles. Men spend $115 more on average than women on back-to-college².


It’s interesting to note that shoppers are spending more money earlier in the season, since these shoppers tend to sniff out deals on their mobile phones. They also plan to shop at different points throughout the summer to take advantage of deals (such as free shipping). From a digital marketers point of view when setting up campaigns, this means higher competition in the marketplace as well as limited inventory and higher CPMs. 

Which leads us to our next point…

How Should Advertisers Build Their Creatives for This Pivotal Moment? 

Creative is the best way to maximize campaign performance, and ironically also the number one bottleneck to launch. Research shows that fast-growing advertisers create 11X more assets to test and optimize, which results in a 23% lower cost per incremental buyer. We hope that we can showcase some streamlined solutions today that creative and ad buying teams can use.


A rule of thumb is that stylized product shots in the creative will almost always outperform brand or lifestyle imagery - show the product they want to buy (and how it should be used) and they will buy it. Additionally, position the most important information on the left hand side, this is where the eye naturally falls first.

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 12.04.36 PM

When it comes to video, remember how little time brands have to engage and catch the viewer’s attention. Shorter is always better - aim to provide as much value to the consumer in the first two to three seconds. This means including brand, sale offer, and products shots to make sure consumers know what you are advertising.

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 12.06.03 PM

We all know how expensive videos are to produce, so you can also improvise using static assets in a “slideshow” format or even user-generated content or B-Roll. Additionally, we always encourage advertisers to test, test and test some more. Using a large variety of creative assets and variations will help you quickly figure out the best creative option to use, come peak sale back-to-school time.

Campaign Strategy 101

 When approaching campaign set up, think of back-to-class as a full season with multiple “holidays” or push weekends, instead of one long sale period. Since back-to-class is over the course of a few months, it’s important to use that time to test spend ceilings before the big weekend sale. Test in the beginning and work up to a defined “back-to-class weekend” or branded campaign. It’s best practice to ensure that one or two weekends are branded as back-to-class sale and provide a sense of urgency. Focus your efforts on peak spending weekends being in late July and early August. Assuming that you want all of your testing done within two weeks of the sale, this gives you about a month or two to really test and try new things before peak weekends.

Proactivity is key - make sure that your campaigns are planned, set up, and it can take up to 48 hours for Facebook to approve ads. Even though BTS is more of a season from a single sale, it’s still important to have a clean launch. Prepare to allocate more budget than usual towards prospecting, as buyer behavior is expected to change. Smartly.io’s Facebook Campaign Budget Optimization and PBA Budget Pools eliminate the need for minor budget adjustments. For ads at scale, Automated Ads or Dynamic Ad Templates can quickly create and test product lines.

Check out our Back to School guide for more insights. See you in class! 😜


¹ - NRF Holiday and Seasonal Trends - Back to School 2018

² - Deloitte 2018 Back-to-College Survey


Digital Advertising Trends in 2023

Get the Ebook

Keep Reading

See All