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Back-to-school marketing: The A+ marketing strategies for your 2022 campaign

by Dan Ginns

August 31, 2022

Back-to-school shopping is one of the biggest spending seasons of the year, only behind Christmas and Easter. With a full return to in-person classes and rising inflation this year, many parents are currently scouring the internet looking for the best e-commerce deals. Brits will spend £1.2 billion on back-to-school this year, a number not seen since before the pandemic.

You're likely already running your back-to-school campaigns, but now is the time to dig into your campaign data and optimize your ads to achieve the best return on ad spend (ROAS). Start testing different campaign attributes such as headline keywords, imagery, platforms and subject matters.

The following marketing tips will help you maximize your ROAS and ace the back-to-school shopping season.

1. Understand the market opportunity in your sector

For advertisers with varied product portfolios or DTC marketers competing against mainstream brands, knowing which items attract the most interest is crucial to creating powerful campaigns that drive users to engage and purchase items.

According to Skimlinks data from back-to-school season in 2021 and what's trending so far in 2022, clothing and electronics items from trusted brands such as John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Microsoft, and Lenovo are proving popular once again.

It pays to stay informed about newcomers as well, particularly as students return full time to face-to-face classrooms and start looking for items they may not have needed in virtual classes.

This year, data from over the summer reveals beauty retailer Escentual and the clothing brand Hype are performing exceptionally well, as self-presentation at school and university takes on renewed importance.

2. Research key topics of interest

By now, back-to-school marketing may feel like a well-oiled process, but consumers' interests change regularly, influenced by world events, social trends, and personal circumstances. It's critical to understand what people are reading about now in the education category and beyond, and reference these topics in your campaigns.

Leveraging current readership trends creates a positive waterfall effect for your campaigns, improving your ROAS. With the help of contextual targeting algorithms, your native ads will appear alongside relevant content, reaching the right audience at the right moment when they are ready to engage with your campaign.

For example, as cost of living rises are on the minds of many parents, Taboola Newsroom data shows that readership about school uniforms has gone up by 117% in the past 90 days, driven by articles such as this one in Chronicle Live, which inform parents about school uniform grants their children may be eligible for.

Retailers advertising affordable back-to-school fashion might choose to reference school uniform grants in their campaigns to capture attention.

3. Diversify your ad spend to reach customers in a variety of environments

With increasing competition for consumer attention across a variety of media and social platforms, the most effective way to reach customers at scale and increase your return on ad spend (ROAS) is to diversify your ad spend across the open web, search and social channels. You might be surprised by where your ads perform well.

Additionally, diversifying the platforms across which you run your campaigns can have a positive impact on overall results, with overlapping effects across different channels. For example, a recent study by Kantar found that adding native video to the marketing mix improved engagement across other channels, and resulted in an overall increase in brand awareness and favorability.

Once you test your campaigns, hone in on those channels that perform best and reallocate ad spend accordingly.

Consider context too. You might want to target users on parenting, lifestyle or education publishers or content, presenting your ads in a contextually relevant environment.

Don't stop there; advertisers offering deals on school uniforms might connect with budget-conscious parents with campaigns on financial publishers, while those advertising essential back-to-school tech might find success in technology-focused publications. Monitor which publications and content your campaign performs well against, and use this information to guide your strategy.

4. Build a data-driven creative strategy

Take a scientific approach to your creatives, A/B testing headlines, imagery and landing pages. To get started, use data-backed tools like Taboola Trends, Google Keyword Planner and AnswerThePublic to create a variety of ad variations for A/B testing.

Call out topics of interest to your audience directly in your headlines and landing pages. Keeping in mind that consumers, especially parents, are more cost-sensitive this year, emphasize value, quality, and low costs in your creatives.

For example, according to Taboola Trends, Education advertisers are seeing a 22% click-through-rate (CTR) increase when using text-free images in their campaigns, and keywords including "master," "rewarding," and "degree" are resulting in strong engagement.

Here's an example of an ad a technology retailer might expect to perform well:

5. Optimize your targeting

Different audiences have different behavioural patterns. Knowing where and when to engage with them will help you capture the attention of the right person at the right time, increasing your ROAS.

When optimizing your targeting strategy, consider the following campaign parameters:

Device type: Learn which device type – mobile, desktop, or table - performs best against your campaign goals. It's possible that one device type may be better suited for brand awareness, while another might drive more leads. According to Taboola data, UK Education campaigns with a goal of driving purchases should experiment with running campaigns targeting tablet users.

Time of day and day of week: Is your audience searching for back-to-school supplies on Sunday afternoons or mid-week evenings? Results can vary between days of the week and time of day, so test and optimize campaigns as you go to find that sweet spot. Data shows that Thursdays and Fridays currently offer the greatest opportunity for UK Education brands.

Contextual environments: Studies show that contextually relevant ads increase neural engagement by 43% and produce 2.2X better ad recall. Ensure that your ads appear alongside contextually relevant content but don't be afraid to experiment with new, related topics, publishers and platforms.

6. Learn from successful campaigns

Look back at successful campaigns you or your competitors have run in previous years for inspiration.

For example, the summer and early autumn is a key time of year for universities to advertise remaining availability on their courses in the Clearing process.

Georgetown University and its digital media partner, Digital Management, Inc. (DMI), ran a campaign which used native ads leveraging thought leadership and program-related content to pique readers' interest in their continuing education offering.

With this unique approach, Georgetown's native campaigns achieved a 740% increase in CVR and an 84% decrease in CPA.

Take control before the bell rings

There's still opportunity to capture your piece of the back-to-school shopping pie, but time is of the essence. Test out different strategies, creatives, channels, and publishers to identify the ones that result in a high ROAS.

Optimization is a continuous process, but if you use the tips discussed here, you should be well on your way to scoring high marks and sailing through the season.


Native Advertising
Back to school
Digital Advertising