Back-to-School Season Beats the Winter Holidays on One Key Ad Metric


  • BTS retail sales will reach $81.16 billion in 2024, with an average consumer spend that actually exceeds the Q4 holidays.

  • For BTS-focused advertisers, revenue increased steadily month-over-month (MoM) throughout Q1 2024, suggesting strong momentum heading into BTS season.

  • Increased BTS consumer activity isn’t a new trend — looking back at BTS 2023, key metrics improved YoY: average revenue grew by 31.2%.

  • Seasonal moments produce results — in 2023, July 4th and Labor Day drove impressive performance for BTS-focused brands. And this year, the Summer Olympics present a unique seasonal opportunity.

Back-to-School (BTS) — it may not get as much attention as the winter holidays, but advertisers shouldn’t ignore this season. In fact, in 2023, consumers actually spent more on BTS and BTS for college than on the winter holidays on average. And this year is expected to follow suit — EMARKETER predicts that BTS retail sales will reach $81.16 billion in 2024. You read that right: billion. With a “B.”

While “retail sales” may be most closely associated with fashion and apparel brands, a wide variety of verticals can benefit from running BTS-focused campaigns. Since college spending is included in this season, products outside of the typical BTS list will be in demand — think home goods and big ticket electronics like laptops and tablets. Not to mention all the other items that make up BTS and college shopping lists — school supplies, text books, snacks, clothing, personal care, and even athletic equipment.

Another major event impacting BTS this year will no doubt be the 2024 Summer Olympics. According to a recent LG study, 84% of parents will watch Olympic events with their children. This will create a major moment for advertisers to engage with ideal BTS audiences at a prime time for BTS shopping (the games run July 26 through August 11, 2024).

At MNTN, we have access to a wide range of first party Connected TV (CTV) advertiser data. So, to learn more about the strategies and resulting performance of CTV advertisers throughout the BTS season, we conducted an extensive analysis focusing on brands closely aligned with BTS and BTS for college. This included advertisers in industries ranging from beauty & fitness and fashion & apparel to career & education, electronics, and more.

Ready to learn more about all things back-to-school? Read on for exclusive first party findings paired with third party data, giving you a complete rundown on advertiser and consumer behaviors during the BTS and BTS for college shopping period.

Q1 Performance Sets the Tone for a Strong BTS 2024

Before we dug into 2023 data, we were interested to see how this group of advertisers has performed thus far in 2024. What we found was positive — revenue increased steadily month-over-month (MoM) throughout Q1 2024.

On top of this, average conversion rate also increased MoM in Q1 2024. These upward performance trends are a good sign for what’s still to come for BTS advertisers this year, especially considering the year-over-year (YoY) growth that they experienced in 2023.

BTS Advertisers Experienced Impressive YoY Growth

BTS 2024 might be primed to be big for advertisers, but this isn’t exactly a new trend. As we highlighted in 2023, BTS and BTS for college consumer activity has been picking up steam for years. And our YoY data from 2023 supports this.

When comparing the performance of BTS-focused advertisers from June 1, 2023 – October 31, 2023 to the same time period in 2022, we found that a variety of key marketing metrics improved in a big way.

Taking into account the other strong performance that these advertisers produced in 2023 alone (more on that below) and how they’ve performed in 2024 thus far, we’re optimistic that this pattern of growth will continue throughout this year.

In 2023, Revenue Was Strong Throughout the BTS Season

BTS encompasses a relatively lengthy period — some consumers start making purchases in early summer, while others wait until well into the school year to do their shopping. With this in mind, we looked at data from June 1 through October 31, 2023. Though this is a broad range, we were encouraged to see that BTS-focused advertisers experienced strong revenue throughout. Digging into the data a little deeper, we found that specific seasonal moments drove results.

Performance Was Especially Powerful in July

Per LTK, 33% of consumers start BTS shopping by the end of June, with the largest percentage of people (36%) reporting that they begin sometime in July. Our data reflected this.

Specific Seasonal Moments Drove Revenue for Different Verticals

We found that, in 2023, there were performance spikes for certain verticals tied to specific moments throughout the BTS season. And each of these seasonal events provided unique opportunities for advertisers.

Lifestyle and fitness & beauty advertisers were big revenue earners in the early summer. Revenue spikes for these particular verticals track with typical early summer consumer behavior: 1. warm weather encourages people outdoors, and 2. many people take vacations during this time period.

Holidays with traditional sales events drove performance. For BTS advertisers, the week of July 4th produced the best revenue, ROAS, and CPA of all weeks in the BTS season. This was followed by the week before and the week of Labor Day, both of which also produced strong revenue and ROAS.

Late summer and early fall were big for sports brands. From August through October, sports advertisers experienced their best revenue, ROAS, CPA, and cost per visit (CPV). With high school and college sports programs starting their pre-seasons at the end of summer and then heading into their regular seasons in the early school year, sports and sports-adjacent brands benefit from consumers needing equipment and other athletic-focused products.

Fashion & apparel and computer & electronics brands saw their best revenue in September. This increased revenue for fashion & apparel brands makes a lot of sense, as consumers typically freshen up their wardrobes for the new school year. Additionally, with most schools and colleges in full swing by September, it tracks that people made big ticket purchases like computers and other electronics to use for classes and accompanying assignments.

Other verticals that saw their top revenue in September, aligned with school being back in action. Home & garden, career & education, science & education, and food & drink had great results — after all, dorm rooms could always use a little personalization, students need textbooks and other supplies for classes, and everyone’s gotta eat.

Don’t forget about Paris. As mentioned earlier, in 2024 advertisers need to be aware of another big seasonal moment: the Summer Olympics. There will be a ton of eyes watching the games, creating the perfect occasion to reach parents and students alike. And the Olympics offer a potential messaging opportunity to tap into, as well, tied to excellence, achievement, effort, and other BTS-friendly themes.

Adding Retargeting to Prospecting at the Right Time Yielded Better Results

While we typically recommend that advertisers who are new to CTV kickoff their efforts with prospecting alone, layering in CTV retargeting at the right time can be extremely beneficial. We found that BTS advertisers who ran both prospecting and retargeting throughout the season saw better results than those who stuck with only top-of-funnel prospecting.

Additionally, advertisers who ran prospecting and retargeting experienced a 49% better CPV and a 40% better average visit rate in the first 90 days compared to those who ran prospecting alone.

These findings highlight the value of a full-funnel approach to Connected TV advertising. In a digital-heavy world where consumers often have multiple touchpoints with a brand, it’s important to consider all parts of the buyer journey. Thankfully, audience targeting on CTV has evolved to help meet this need, with MNTN Matched being a prime example of CTV’s potential to find consumers who have the highest levels of intent and potential affinity to an advertiser. This approach allows you to reach and nurture potential customers, no matter where they are in the sales funnel, ultimately leading to better results.

Back-to-School Provides Opportunities for a Variety of Advertisers, Especially Those Who Use CTV

Most schools and universities might not be back in session until August or September, but advertisers need to start planning for BTS and BTS for college months before that. Data shows that most consumers make BTS and college purchases by the end of July, but many brands can expect sales through October.

With 87% of parents reporting that they recalled seeing a BTS TV ad in 2023, this period provides major opportunities for those advertising on television screens. CTV has proven an effective channel for advertisers to reach customers at all stages of the funnel throughout the BTS season. Brands who want to make the most of BTS and BTS for college should consider adding CTV to the mix.

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