Marketing Briefing: Marketers find value in new channels ahead of this unusual back-to-school season


This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Summer is still in full swing. But with the pandemic leaving a trail of uncertainty and shoppers getting a head start on things for the classroom, marketers have already started to think through ad strategies ahead of this year’s back-to-school season. For the latest edition of our Marketing Briefing, marketers weigh in on the trends that will dominate this period as the industry prepares for a slow return to classrooms.

Bigger ad budgets and a crowded digital marketplace

One of the major shifts marketers saw during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown was the increase in online shopping. And of course, marketers moved to meet them in those channels. At Gupta Media, a Boston-based digital marketing agency, clients are coming to the table with bigger budgets for digital ad buys ahead of this year’s back-to-school season.

“Part of it is, with the pandemic, so much shifted to digital advertising overall. We saw advertising and digital channels get a lot more expensive,” said Ilyssa Bloch, an account director at Gupta. “In order to achieve similar volume results that we achieved in past years when things were cheaper in the digital space, budgets had to ramp up to keep up with that increased competition.”

It’s especially true when it comes to marketing that targets college-aged students as enrollment returns to pre-pandemic levels, Bloch said.

And according to social media advertising company, tech brands (i.e. laptops and tablets) have been ramping up social media advertising efforts, surpassing even the investment levels of Black Friday last year, per Corinne Demadis, vice president for for the U.S. East Coast.

Aggressive on TikTok

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat will continue to be key parts of brands’ strategies. But brands are getting more aggressive in their approach to TikTok, emphasizing the short-form video platform in their back-to-school marketing campaigns.

“They’re so authentic. The ad types are unexpected and different,” said Gupta Media founder, Gogi Gupta. “So they have balanced out some of the more corporate sales just being able to influence behavior.” Gupta Media, a Boston-based agency, has a client list that includes Amazon Prime and Amazon Student.

While the pandemic kept consumers at home, TikTok exponentially grew — and widened its user base — to 100 million monthly active users in the U.S., per Omnicore agency.

Vying for the Gen Z audience, backpack brand JanSport’s back-to-school campaign this year will tap TikTok stars like Boman Martinez-Reid, Caroline Ricke and Brooke Averick to make cross-promoted posts, including on the brand’s YouTube channel. Stationery company BIC also recently announced plans for a TikTok campaign ahead of this school year. 

Careful brand messaging

Brand messaging will be tricky to navigate as the safety of returning to full capacity in schools continues to be debated. For Gupta’s clients, this has meant staying away from creative that shows multiple students occupying the same pace.

Crayola has adopted a similar ideology. 

“We are definitely seeing more schools and educators asking for supplies and products to be more individual than shared in the classroom,” said Victoria Lozano, executive vice president and general manager of Crayola attractions and retail.

As of now, the Crayola brand says this year’s campaign messaging will celebrate the return to school, but won’t stray too far from its traditional campaign messaging, Go Back with the Best. 

“We’re seeing a really celebratory mood, environment and approach to back to school this year,” she said. “There’s definitely more of a celebratory feeling this year because I think both kids and parents view it as another step toward [a] return to [a] more normal life.”

By the numbers

The pandemic lockdown turned many on to social media as a way to communicate as well as a source of entertainment. With user-generated content exploding on TikTok and Clubhouse carving out a lane for audio on social, there’s no shortage of people on social media and using new channels. And as marketers look to find new ways to get in front of shoppers, knowing which platforms people are using is crucial. New data from social media management platform Sprout Social sheds light on just that. Find the data points broken down below:

  • 87% of consumers say they use Facebook, followed by YouTube (74%), Instagram (68%), and Twitter (50%) most frequently 
  • Facebook (78%), Instagram (57%), YouTube (47%), and Twitter (36%) are where consumers follow brands most
  • When it comes to platforms consumers want brands to use more, Facebook tops the list (60%), followed by Instagram (48%), YouTube (41%), and Twitter (30%)

3 Questions with Elizabeth Dimond, CMO of Pumpkin pet insurance

What does marketing look like for your team this summer? 

One of the fun things about working in the pet industry is “pet holidays.” For instance, coming up soon is “Dogust” on August 1st, which is the honorary birthday for rescue pups. Pumpkin will be celebrating through a “Turn Bark Time” fundraising campaign for the lifesaving work of Wags & Walks rescue while celebrating the joy of adopting animals of all ages.

In teaming up with Wags & Walks, we launched this campaign yesterday and will be announcing winners starting on July 26th.  While our overall tone is fun and celebratory, the most important part of this is supporting Wags & Walks in their incredible, lifesaving work.

With a rise in Covid variants, has that impacted anything for your team or efforts? 

Our team has continued to work from home, with many team members spread out geographically. With that in mind, we’re continuing to focus primarily on digital initiatives, like “Turn Bark Time,” since we saw such success with other online initiatives, like the Indoguration, where everyone can participate.

How is your team maintaining work-life balance? 

Recognizing that this has been a difficult year for many, we’re encouraging our team to prioritize enjoying their summer. As a result, Pumpkin is asking all employees to take a mandatory, completely unplugged week off this summer. In the same spirit, we’ve also instituted a “no meetings after 1 p.m. on Fridays” policy during the summer so everyone can get a head start on their weekend.

Quote of the day

“Test outdoor advertising. This would be a time to double down on measurability and scalability. And remain in test mode channels outside of that.”

Overheard on the first day of Digiday’s CMO Summit on July 19, which operates under Chatham House Rules as marketers talked through the pain points of modern-day marketing.

What we’ve covered

Marketing reporter Kimeko McCoy and senior brands editor Seb Joseph explored how the influencer space is changing in light of the recent college athlete NIL ruling.

Platforms, data and privacy reporter Kate Kaye took a look at how pharma marketers targeted doctors on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Future of Work managing editor Jessica Davies explored how employers are getting creative as the industry enters a new era of remote work.

More in Marketing

Cannes Briefing: Sports hold full court at Cannes Lions 2024

Sports isn’t just a sideshow at Cannes Lions 2024, it’s taking center stage.

HR and marketing are more connected than they used to be

A highly competitive job market and the rise of employer branding have necessitated a closer collaboration between HR and marketing.

Digiday Podcast at Cannes: Inside Instacart’s plans to make every surface shoppable with CMO Laura Jones

Instacart is on a mission to make every surface shoppable, pitching that to advertisers at this year’s Cannes Lions festival.