Study: Back to School Ads, Promos Down 50% Amid School Uncertainty

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Study: Back to School Ads, Promos Down 50% Amid School Uncertainty


Numerator has launched a Back to School Index to understand how brands and consumers are managing through the uncertainty of school reopening. The index monitors ad spend, promotional activity and purchase behaviors compared to the year prior to quantify shifts in everything from advertising strategy to consumer behavior. New insights are published weekly beginning July 4 through Sept. 13.

Key findings include: 

  • Back to school (BTS) advertising is off to a slow start as the number of ads with BTS messaging in July are down significantly. 
  • Retailers including Target, Walmart, Kohls and Amazon have all kicked off their BTS advertising, but most are still running fewer ads than they were at the same time last year.
  • Brands are betting on TV as families spend more time at home. This past week, TV ads made up over half (55%) of the media mix for BTS advertising.
  • Overall, BTS promotions are off to a slow start, particularly with apparel promotions which are still down nearly 60% versus a year ago. After a notable push last week, promotions for school supplies dropped again this week, while BTS apparel and electronics promotions increased slightly. 

"The lack of clarity on back to school is both understandable and frustrating. Two-thirds of consumers report they still don't know if their kids will be in live or virtual classrooms. As consumers wait to see what [going] back to school looks like, brands and retailers are waiting too," said Eric Belcher, CEO, Numerator. "Back-to-school ad and promotional activity is down 50% with significant swings to TV for ads and web-based promotions – with more volatility expected." 

Early insight into consumer sentiment and purchase behavior, the third component of the index, includes:

  • Three out of four households (77%) indicate that their BTS shopping experience will be different, while one in three households (30%) indicate they will not bring their children to stores for the normal school supply selection. 
  • Two of five households (41%) plan to primarily shop online and have their supplies delivered. One in four will use click-and-collect services for school supplies creating a partial "school trip" experience. 
  • Households expecting to buy school supplies dropped from 94% in 2019 to 78% in 2020.
  • Four in five households expect to spend the same on school supplies but expect the mix to shift.
  • The mix shift will include disinfectants and sanitizers: 62% of households anticipate purchasing disinfecting wipes or spray, with 67% anticipate buying hand sanitizer – nearly keeping pace with the 77% of households planning to buy pens/pencils and paper/notebooks.
  • 13% of households plan on purchasing electronics such as laptops, tablets or printers. This number is three times higher among households that already know that their children will be attending classes online.

A note on methodology: 

  • The BTS Advertising Index counts ads with BTS messaging and keywords across all categories.
  • The BTS Promotions Index monitors activity for brands across both online and offline channels for three categories: school supplies, electronics and apparel.

As an omnichannel consumer insights panel in the U.S., Numerator can quantify consumer behavior for the same household across channels, retailers and trips to provide a faster, more complete look at their purchase behavior. This can help brands stay ahead of changing consumer behavior and adjust their marketing and promotional tactics to reach and influence consumers where they shop. Numerator is a data and tech company serving the market research space.