A Moving Target: Back-to-School 2020

As Labour Day approaches, parents continue to depend on local news to stay informed on the lay of the back-to-school land for their children. With some level of ambiguity around varying models that are expected this year, like modified in-class attendance, online curriculum, hybrid or simply learning as usual, perspectives on supplies and shopping are fluid. In a recent study released by The Retail Council of Canada and Leger, it is evident that shopping for back-to-school supplies are down this year. Moreover, we’ve seen major shifts in digital habits across all cohorts and whether these trends will hold, is yet to be determined.

IAB Canada caught up with Lorena Chiarotto, Director Communications Planning and Kirsten Moore, Managing Director of Mindshare to get an insider view on what planning for “back-to-school” looks like in these uncertain times.

IAB Canada (IABC): How has back-to-school media planning be altered given the COVID-19 crisis we continue to navigate?

Lorena Chiarotto and Kirsten Moore (LC/KM): “Going back-to-school” has become less of a homogenous experience now than in the past. This means we have had to consider different consumer journeys into the season, without the benefit of historical ROI or MMM models to guide our way because the way people behave with media has changed quite a bit in such a short time frame. We have had to consider which of the fluctuating media behaviors we’ve seen since March will develop into habits that stick and become important to the advertising mix, versus ones that are reactive to the situation. More than ever, planning has required a concerted effort by planners, buyers, analysts, research, media vendors and our client partners to forge the best way forward.

IABC: Has the uncertainty around start dates and procedures impacted the planning process? 

LC/KM: The back half of the year can be quite intense for many brands as it accounts for a large share of their annual business in many cases, which typically means planning starts early.  But with so much volatility and uncertainty, planning has either been delayed closer to in-market execution or extra layers of scenario planning have been required.  Instead of having to consider 1 or 2 plausible outcomes, this year, scenario planning has had to consider how the most plausible outcomes could be addressed on a province by province level as the situation is different across the country.  The uncertainty has also given clearer focus to the role of channels and the message by channel, considering which ones we can expect to be agile and deliver dynamic messaging that address the situation in the moment, versus channels that may be slower to react and therefore need to support a more fundamental message that supports the brand intent regardless of the potential change in situation. 

IABC: Is there an influx of online media market activity on back-to-school supplies? i.e. increased costs for certain placements or keywords? 

LC/KM: With online, its not just about an influx of new dollars but rather a deeper look at where those dollars will be the most impactful.  We need to determine where in the consumer journey we need the message to resonate and create interest or action. 

 We know that time spent online has increased during Covid, therefore a lot of effort has been spent looking at the impact of reach/frequency.  There is a need to understand where incremental reach vs a balanced frequency come into play with new consumer habits.  A key online opportunity has been around the data available to remove traditional age demographics to focus BTS messaging where it will create the best ROI during the season as each households needs are different during the season. 

IABC: Has there been a targeting shift to be more inclusive of all demographics vs. the traditional “mom” target? 

LC/KM: Since March we are seeing an accelerated shift in household dynamics with both women and men having to share in the responsibility of schooling their children.  This has opened up the back-to-school conversation to be more inclusive and gender neutral and expanding targeting opportunities.  Furthermore, the situation in the last few months has brought more compassion and care for the immediate community we live in.  People have become more aware of issues such as the struggle of single parent households or the lack of access to internet and technology and are looking to brands to help their communities level the playing field for all students.  This opens enormous opportunity for brands to expand their CSR efforts and engage audiences at a local level, while potentially expanding their consumer base.