Aug 11 2023
Molly Marshall

How to Ace Your Back-to-School Campaigns This Year


Sparkly pencil pouches. Crisp new planners. Notebooks stacked meticulously by color. Aisles filled with crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, and lunch boxes as far as the eye can see. Ah, the rush of back-to-school shopping!

For many brands, this time is almost as exciting as it is for students. Back-to-school shopping provides opportunities for high customer engagement, increased sales, new product releases, and more.

Because the season offers so much potential, it’s critical for marketers to aim for straight A’s in their back-to-school campaigns. As such, we’re here to outline some key strategies retail marketers can use to get top marks.

Ready? Grab a seat, pull out your notebook and find your favorite new pen—class is in session!

1. Understand Your Audience

The difference between an 8th grader and a freshman in high school is a significant one (don’t believe us? Find one, they’ll tell you!). And just like students can change drastically from year to year, so too can the audiences that advertisers are trying to connect with. As such, it’s important to understand who your audience is right now.

We know, we know: This is true for any campaign. But for back-to-school campaigns, it’s especially important to understand your audience and the ever-changing factors that are influencing them. This includes demographics, behaviors, pain points and needs, motivations, and preferences, as well as additional factors that shift from year to year.

Perhaps the most significant factor to consider in 2023? Economic uncertainty. Sure, inflation is easing up and layoffs are decreasing. But interest rates continue to climb, and consumers are still worried about rising prices and job security. Couple that with the fact that payments on federal student loans will resume in October—which will have a notable impact on many millennial parents—and it’s no surprise that consumer behaviors are different this year.

Just how is this economic uncertainty shifting consumer habits? For one, people are financing their back-to-school purchases in new ways: An increasing number are opting to use “buy now, pay later” plans, or to purchase on high interest credit cards. Both payment methods signal that shoppers are feeling cash strapped, that they don’t have a lot to spend on unnecessary items, and that they are likely to prioritize value over brand loyalty.

Which leads us to our next key strategy for back-to-school campaigns in 2023:

2. Lead with (All Kinds of) Value

Brand and store loyalty take a backseat during key shopping periods when wallets are tight. So, given today’s economic uncertainty, it’s especially important that brands use their media campaigns to highlight the value that consumers get by purchasing at their store or buying a specific product.

This focus on value carries more weight than ever today and can come into play in multiple ways in a campaign. One such way is to signal a percentage off opportunity, a bundling opportunity, or other savings incentives associated with your brand or product. And while offering discounts can drive conversions, it’s not the only way to communicate value. Brands can also offer options that prioritize convenience—such as the aforementioned buy now, pay later plan or a buy online, pick up in-store option. Yet another way to lead with value? Speak to product quality. If your brand can offer a durable item with easy pick-up and returns, be sure to make that clear to shoppers this back-to-school season.

By offering and emphasizing value—in terms of cost savings, product quality, and convenience—brands can help alleviate some of the pressures of today’s economic uncertainty for families, which can help foster positive brand perception both during and beyond back-to-school campaigns.  

3. Optimize Your Campaigns for A+ Returns  

“This is all well and good,” some marketers might say. “But our team planned and launched our back-to-school campaign already. What can I do?”

We’re so glad you asked! Much like students can’t simply rock their first test of the year and then coast through the rest of the semester, marketers’ jobs aren’t done once their back-to-school campaigns go live.

August is prime time for back-to-school shopping—which means it’s also prime time for marketers to optimize their campaigns regularly to ensure strong media impact. Using data to inform your decisions, here are some of the areas you might consider optimizing:

  • Digging deeper into who target audiences are, considering how they specifically have been impacted by financial changes, and adjusting messaging/targeting accordingly
  • Swapping creative for variations that are more value-focused
  • Updating tactics and placements for maximum impact across channels to prioritize high reach and high conversions (this can be especially helpful for channels like digital out-of-home, where the venue itself can be optimized!)
  • Adjusting creative/targeting based on both parent demographics and their students’ demographics (i.e., a millennial parent shopping for a first grader should see ads for different products than a Gen X parent shopping for a sophomore in high school)
  • Shifting budgets to channels with higher conversion rates and away from those that are under-performing

Beyond optimizing their campaigns, it’s also a great time for marketers to ensure they have reporting set up in a way that keeps data clean and organized. That way, they can leverage insights in campaigns later in the year, as well as develop insights on media performance to get a head start on strategies to win during next year’s back-to-school efforts.

Next Steps: Back-to-School Campaigns 

For marketers working on back-to-school campaigns, it’s important to have a holistic understanding of target audiences, and to understand the unique factors at play in this moment. By seeking to understand your audience deeply, your team can better meet your target consumers’ needs.

In 2023, this likely looks like leveraging value-first messaging to show consumers why they should opt for your brand or product, especially amidst today’s economic instability. Beyond this messaging, marketers can further level up their back-to-school campaigns by ensuring they are optimizing throughout the entirety of the campaign, and by setting up reporting in a way that makes data easy to use to inform future campaigns. By utilizing these strategies, marketers can ensure their back-to-school campaigns are as big of a hit as pizza day in the cafeteria.


We know that in addition to optimizing their back-to-school campaigns, marketers are in the process of planning their holiday campaigns. To keep you sane during this busy time of year, we created The Digital Marketer’s 2023 Holiday Advertising Checklist. This ultimate checklist covers everything you need to know to ensure a successful 2023 holiday season—including key dates to plan for, how to leverage data, goal-planning, and more.

Get the Checklist