Planning Your Back-To-School Campaigns? (Elementary-aged girl carrying folders and wearing a backpack against blue background)
May 13, 2024

Ace Your Back-to-School Ad Strategy: Insights & Trends for CPG Brands

As children daydream of summer popsicles and pool parties, CPG advertisers are already planning for the 2024 back-to-school season. For many CPG brands, the back-to-school rush signals a period of booming sales and strategic marketing opportunities. Last year, the National Retail Federation predicted record-setting spend levels for the back-to-class season despite inflation and economic uncertainty.

What is certain is that CPG brand marketers need to gather data on when, where, and what families are planning to buy to aid their ad strategies. At AdAdapted, we leverage pre-shop planning data to help brands connect with consumers when building their shopping lists. Using our exclusive insights, this blog delves into the trends of regional back-to-school shopping behavior. Our goal is to help CPG brands craft a winning ad strategy that positions your brand for an easy A this school year!

BTS Basics

Back-to-school (BTS) season is unlike other popular occasion-based shopping events in that its “official” dates vary yearly and by region. Pew Research Center compiled a regional breakdown of school start dates, depicting the average geographic variation. According to Pew, August 14-18 was the approximate mid-point of back-to-school season across the US last year, with the Midwest region's average start date mirroring that range. AdAdapted reviewed our proprietary pre-shop data for the Midwest region’s consumer planning habits for this date range to explore the average “what and when” behind back-to-school shopper intent. 

Write On!

Shopping for school supplies seems like a fairly routine yearly task, but our planning data suggest that planning habits are less predictable when it comes to product categories. Let’s begin with writing utensils (pens, pencils, crayons, and markers). In the Midwest, we see an increase in these essential tools being added to shopping lists as early as 29 days before school begins, with a peak averaging nine days before the start of school. This trend suggests that many BTS shoppers know the drill regarding BTS necessities and are proactive planners regarding the basics, tackling back-to-school prep for certain items well before a last-minute scramble.

Back to School Data: Folders/Binders Daily List Adds Per 1K Users


This early focus on writing utensils may suggest that parents and caregivers prioritize these fundamental school supplies to ensure their children are well-equipped from day one. It could also indicate a desire to avoid the potential stress of late-season shortages and price hikes. This pre-shopping window presents a golden opportunity for advertisers to connect with these organized shoppers, establishing your brand as a trusted resource for back-to-school writing essentials.

In the Fold

While the early bird trend holds for writing utensils, our data on binders and folders present a slightly different pattern. Although some midwestern BTS shoppers began adding these paper organizers to lists 24 days before the average back-to-school date, Aug 14th, binders and folders' peak appearance on consumers’ lists wasn’t until eight days after the average start of school date.

This later surge in binder and folder planning could be due to parents or caregivers waiting for their child's specific classroom needs/lists before making purchases, ensuring they get the right size, subject dividers, or organizational features required by the teacher. 


This unique trend surrounding school supplies highlights the importance of a nuanced approach to back-to-school marketing. Some parents may plan early for all supplies; others may require a more targeted approach based on their specific needs and school start dates. AdAdapted's granular targeting capabilities can address this by allowing you to reach shoppers who are actively adding your product category to their lists, regardless of the overall back-to-school timeline.

Hygiene Heroes Hold Steady

While student school supplies take center stage in early back-to-school planning, our data reveals a consistent year-round interest in other essentials: tissues and hand sanitizer. These hygiene heroes see a slight increase in shopping list additions 19 days before our average BTS date for hand sanitizer and four days out for tissue, coinciding with the traditional back-to-school preparation period.

Back to School Data: Tissues Daily List Adds Per 1K Users


This BTS bump can be interpreted in a few ways. Perhaps, with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, shoppers are taking a more relaxed approach to back-to-school prep, focusing on maintaining a baseline level of hygiene throughout the year, with an uptick before the germier classroom environment kicks in. Another possibility is that this increase reflects parents stocking up on these supplies for their children's backpacks and classroom needs. Teachers often request these items to have on hand for students who may forget or run out during the school day.

Back to School Data: Hand Sanitizer Daily List Adds Per 1K Users


Regardless of the specific reason, the consistent presence of tissues and hand sanitizer on shopping lists highlights their ongoing importance in the back-to-school season. Brands in the personal care space can use BTS messaging to position their products as a partner in keeping kids healthy and classrooms functioning smoothly throughout the school year. 

Snack Stars

Our data highlights a clear trend of early bird planning when shopping for traditional school supplies. However, the world of back-to-school snacks paints a different picture. Granola bars, for example, exhibit a revealing trend. Unlike other pre-planned BTS necessities, these lunchtime heroes see a spike in interest after the Midwest school year has already begun, six days after the average start date. The post-school start bump suggests a more reactive approach to snack shopping, potentially reflecting the realities of busy schedules and the need to address unexpected snacking needs (not to mention children’s ever-changing tastes!)

Back to School Data: Granola Bars Daily List Adds Per 1K Users


This granola bar statistic represents how snacks play a different role in back-to-school shopping compared to shopping intent for traditional supplies. Instead of stocking up before school begins, snack procuring tends to happen as families are back in the throes of a school routine. Nonetheless, the later lift in granola bar interest highlights this staple snack’s importance as a convenient and portable food option once school is in session.

Takeaways: Embrace the Nuances of Back-to-School Shopping

This snapshot into back-to-school shopping behavior reveals a few takeaways for CPG marketers: 

  • Planning Starts Early (But Not Always): While some consumers are meticulous BTS planners, others take a more wait-and-see approach, particularly for snacks. Understanding these variations is crucial for crafting targeted campaigns.
  • Know Your Geo: Each region (and school system!) has its own unique BTS timeline. The more you know about your target demographic’s calendar, the more efficient your campaigns can be. 
  • Timing is Everything. Reaching consumers at the right moment in their pre-shopping journey is critical. Target early birds for essential supplies, but remember the post-school start date snack surge.

Unlocking the Power of Back-to-School Data (Nationally!)

The data presented here focuses on the Midwest region and specific product categories. However, AdAdapted's capabilities extend far beyond this example. Our platform offers:

  • National Reach: We leverage data from all regions of the US, allowing you to tailor campaigns to your target audience's specific school start dates and shopping trends.
  • Granular Targeting: Go beyond demographics! Target consumers based on their specific pre-shop planning behavior. Imagine reaching parents actively planning yogurt purchases in California or adding lunchbox essentials to lists in Florida!
  • Product Category Expertise: Our data insights extend across a vast array of CPG product categories, ensuring you can target the most relevant back-to-school buyers for your brand.

Ready to See the Power of Back-to-School Data in Action?

Contact AdAdapted today! Schedule a demo and discover how our pre-shop planning insights can empower you to craft winning back-to-school campaigns. Reach the right consumers at the right time, driving sales and propelling your brand to the top of their shopping lists. Let's make this back-to-school season a success, together!

Ready to work with a partner that gets your brand 9.1 ROAS?

Let’s chat about how AdAdapted can drive sales for your brand with the leading one-click add-to technology built for CPG brands.
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