Back to School: A Marketing Guide

By Noah Walji (SoCast) Jul 5, 2022 | 12:54 PM

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

More than 25 years after Staples repurposed the holiday classic, the back to school shopping season remains one of the largest for our retail clients. Back to School/Back to College is second to only the Christmas season in terms of how much we spend collectively, with more than $100 billion US going towards new supplies, tech and clothing to make a splash when we return from summer vacation – even for those of us who don’t have kids.

When it comes to planning a back to school marketing strategy, it’s important to consider who you’re targeting, what type of messaging will resonate with that audience and when it’s ideal to start advertising.

Key Facts for Back to School:

  • With inflation on people’s mind, shoppers are expecting to spend more on back to school this fall (approximately $270 per child)
  • Average household spends $848 on kids between kindergarten and high school, and $1,200 on college and university children
  • Most people (59%) do a hybrid of online and in person shopping.  22% will exclusively shop online, while 16% will exclusively shop in store
  • When choosing where to shop, price (76%), product availability (63%) and free shipping (46%) were the three biggest considerations
  • Unfortunately, only 1 in 8 people plan to shop local for back to school, with the majority of our spend going to the big box stores or Amazon

Without a properly defined marketing strategy, small businesses will continue to cede ground to Amazon and Staples in the battle for the customers wallet. By working with an experienced marketing consultant (like our broadcasting account executives around the world), advertisers will be better equipped to compete and use the back to school shopping season to kick off the back half of 2022.

Back to School Timing – start early!

School may have just ended in many parts of Canada and the United States, but research for back to school shopping can start early.
In many parts of the US, the school year ends in late May or early June, and school tends to resume in the middle of August. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that people are actively searching for back to school items right after Independence Day and peaking just after the Labor Day long weekend with a secondary bump just after New Years.
Google Trends Back to School

US search volume for back to school. Source: Google Trends


In Canada, school tends to end later in June, and the new school years starts at the end of August (and in some cases after Labor Day). Canadians compress their shopping into a shorter window in August, but activity still peaks around the September long weekend.


Back to School Canada

Canadian search volume for back to school. Source: Google Trends


Understanding when people are searching for back to school products gives us and idea of when we should be marketing towards this audience.  If we think about this in the context of the customer journey, we should time our advertising to build awareness of our brand and products prior to this key period.  This ensures our advertising partners are on the consideration list when potential customers have identified they have a need and begin their product research. By warming up potential customers, SMBs can make them more open and responsive to the sales and offers that are key to the conversion phase of the customer journey.

Target Audiences – more than just parents!

There are three main audience segments we should consider when crafting our back to school marketing strategy for 2022.

Back to School Parents


Not surprisingly, the largest target audience for back to school shopping is parents of younger children. Although mom tends to take the lead for making sure the little ones are equipped for their first day back, dads have been taking on an increased responsibility in back to school shopping.

College Students Back to School


The older a child gets, the more influence they get over their purchases. By the time they’re off to college and university, they become consumers in their own right – with their individual preferences on what they need for class. In fact, college students spend up to 50% more on back to school items than parents of younger children.

Back to School Deal Finders

Deal Shoppers

Back to school shopping isn’t exclusive to parents and students. Without kids you may not need crayons and note books, but great offers on fashion and technology will entice consumers to spend money as people return to a regular work week. Many US States even offer a “sales tax holiday” during the back to school season!

SMBs also have the opportunity of capturing first party data on their customers to target them year after year. If you have an email list from customers who made back to school purchases at this time last year, they’re likely ready to make another purchase for this school year! Creating custom audience segments for display or social advertising ensures you’re in front of the right person… and because they’ve already been a customer they’re already familiar with your brand.

Back to School Categories

Many different businesses have a need to advertise during the back to school season, even if they aren’t targeting parents and kids.

  • Clothing, Apparel & Shoes
    Everyone wants to look nice for that “first day of school” photo on the front step. So it’s not surprising that new clothes are on parents and students’ shopping lists with 38% of back to school spending going towards fashion.
  • Supplies
    With more of us working from home, we no longer have access to unlimited pen and paper from the office supply cupboard.
  • Electronics
    Gadget lovers need to stay up to date with the latest trends in technology, and it should be no surprise that phone companies plan their launches around the back to school shopping season.
  • Sporting Goods
    Sports, whether it’s a part of gym or an after hours activity, is a key part of student life.  More than 57% of high school students play on a school or community sports team.
  • Furniture / Home Decor
    For those who are moving away to college, decorating your dorm room or apartment is one of the first times you can put your own stamp on your residence!
  • Tutors 
    Parents can spend anywhere from $170 to $700 a month for a private tutor for their kids.

Marketing Strategy Summary

  • Start advertising early (July) to build awareness prior to the big spending period (August/September)
  • Target more than just parents – including those who are shopping for a deal
  • Leverage your own first party data like customer email lists, and if you don’t have some already start collecting!
  • With prices on the rise, make sure you include sale information in your creative to help with conversion

If you’re a small business who is struggling with your digital marketing strategy, talk to one of our experts at SoCast!  Email us at adsales@socastdigital.com and we’d be happy to help you understand how digital advertising can provide an accountable return on your marketing investment.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

SoCast Digital


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