2023’s Back-to-School Advertising Trends

September 6, 2023

While most Winmo kids have been back to school for a while now (damn you Southern schedules), the rest of the country is quickly catching up. It’s been an interesting season so far, as consumers and businesses continue to face rising inflation. In addition, the economy has put pressure on families to find ways to save money while still providing their children with the necessary supplies for the upcoming year. And no one can seem to agree on whether they’re spending more or tightening their purse strings…

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According to The National Retail Federation, 2023 will be the most expensive back-to-school shopping season ever. The trade organization surveyed more than 7,800 consumers between June 30-July 6, 2o23. Data from the survey found:

  • Overall spending is expected to surpass $135 billion, an increase of more than $24 billion from the previous year.
  • Clothing and shoes are the top expected shopping categories with 95% in the market for clothing and 94% for shoes.
  •  Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend on average $890.07, about $25 more than last year and a new record.

However, Deloitte’s 2023 back-to-school survey found that parents are shrinking their budgets and fine-tuning their shopping lists. The decline could signal a return-to-earth after periods of soaring sales tied to adjustments around the pandemic and eventual return to in-person learning. According to the survey:

  • 34% of parents plan to postpone buying non-essential school items this year.
  • Tech and apparel are expected to take the biggest hit, forecasted to be down 13% and 14% year-over-year, respectively. 

While consumer behavior has proven hard to neatly define, brands are ramping up their spending and experimenting with new media channels, spokespeople, and even products. Keep reading to find out what three back-to-school advertisers are up to… and what their spending plans are as we head into the back-half of the year.

Back-to-school brands in the news:

1.  Instacart

The grocery delivery service recently rolled out its largest-ever back-to-school ad campaign and filed for its IPO, expecting shares to start trading on the Nasdaq in September. The campaign, “You’ve Got This, Parents,” promotes Instacart’s convenient, one-stop shopping experiences and highlights its AI-fueled search service. For the initiative, Instacart is co-marketing with Babybel, Chobani, Lunchables, Skippy, and Yoplait. Additionally, Instacart:

  • Launched the campaign across multiple channels like OTT, online video, linear TV, paid social, audio, CRM, and affiliate marketing.
  • Targets Millennial and Gen-X parents (and B2B brand partners, too), Instacart will likely continue increasing spending and seek new agency partners.
  • Will likely invest heavily in back-to-school season in 2024 as well, so get ready to reach out in H1 to secure those ad dollars.

2.  Shoe Carnival

The footwear chain’s 2023 back-to-school push features actor Terry Crews as a not-so-traditional brand ambassador. The campaign —with Crews in the role of  “Spokesfeet” — is supported across TV, radio, digital, and social media. Shoe Carnival still hasn’t filled the marketing SVP position that became vacant earlier this year. Additionally, Show Carnival:

  • Targets Gen-X and millennial parents.
  • Allocates the majority of its ad budget toward H2, though the company could also increase ad spending for the rest of 2023.
  • Will likely seek high ROI marketing investments, ramp up promotional activity throughout the back-to-school season, and continue featuring celebrity influencers in its creative work.

3.  Tillamook

The dairy brand just launched Tillamook Mac & Cheese and Tillamook Crispy Stone-Fired Pizza, its first-ever frozen products. The mac & cheese is available at select Target and Walmart locations and the pizza will be released in October. This launch comes after Tillamook hired Leo Burnett as its new creative AOR in April. Additionally, Tillamook:

  • Targets primary shoppers, especially Gen-X and millennial women/mothers.
  • Will likely launch an ad campaign or fresh creative to promote the new products and make additional agency changes.

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