As the coronavirus continues to cast a pall over the economic climate in the U.S., plans of putting kids back into the classrooms have stalled. It’s anybody’s guess exactly when students will get back to a regular education schedule. In the meantime, a period many retailers rely on to boost their quarterly results is proving to be a challenge for back-to-school marketing campaigns.

Back-to-school marketing efforts have traditionally been full of energy and fun, creative slogans. However, the pandemic is changing the marketing ecosystem. A more delicate approach may be required, or brands risk coming across as insensitive to the issues most families are facing. Advertising has taken a hit this year, with back-to-school advertising activity around 50% of last year’s levels. The sectors taking the biggest drops include apparel, electronics, and school supplies.

Finding a New Focus for Back-to-School Marketing During the Pandemic

Many brands have chosen to throw out the old playbook in favor of creating resources and providing services that are more in line with the challenges of the time. Old Navy is one brand that has taken an entirely different tack this year. Rather than focus on a rapid-fire series of back-to-school ads, they have shifted their focus to young activists. By taking this approach, Old Navy is actively promoting the brand’s support for equality and celebrating differences. 

A New Approach to Back-to-School Marketing in These Uncertain Times - 123RF Blog

Photo shot by Dean Drobot, 123RF.

Other brands are helping parents and teachers prepare themselves for a homeschooling environment and learning in a virtual environment. Apple, for example, are offering free Airpods with an iMac or iPad purchased with educational pricing.

Retailers are Focusing More on e-Commerce

Social distancing and quarantine have created a market ripe for online retailers to boost and expand their efforts. People are choosing to make more purchases online to reduce their risk or are forced to be because of lockdown regulations. 

A New Approach to Back-to-School Marketing in These Uncertain Times - 123RF Blog

Image by mavoimage, 123RF.

A survey conducted by Aspire IQ revealed that 2.5X more people than last year said they will do all of their shopping online this year. Namogoo also states that more than 40% of people will replace their in-store back to school purchases with online purchases.

A Greater Focus on Social Media Marketing

A significant portion of paid advertising campaigns have been paused because of the uncertainty of the times. However, research indicates that many brands have spent more time on their social media presence than they did in 2019. 

A New Approach to Back-to-School Marketing in These Uncertain Times - 123RF Blog

Photo shot by rawpixel, 123RF.

Sprout social reports that there have been more than 657,000 back-to-school marketing social messages. Retailers have been more active on platforms like Pinterest in preparation for the back-to-school period, with more than a 100% YoY increase in Pins posted on the subject. Aside from building their businesses on Tiktok, e-commerce brands are also increasing their reach on Instagram as their supplementary force of social sales.

It’s been a tough year, and uncertain times are still ahead. However, children still need to be educated, and parents will require the resources to make that happen. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the back-to-school market, but entirely writing off this year’s marketing period may lead to many lost opportunities in a rapidly evolving marketplace.