Limited Early Ad Spend Shifts to TV; Promotion Activity Shifts to Online 


Chicago, IL (July 20, 2020) Numerator, a data and tech company serving the market research space, has launched a Back to School Index to understand how brands and consumers are managing through the uncertainty of school openings. The index monitors ad spend, promotional activity, and purchase behaviors versus a year ago to quantify shifts in everything from advertising strategy to consumer behavior. The index will be published weekly through mid-September. Numerator Survey data is included to add insight into consumer sentiments.

Key findings include:

  • Back-to-School (BTS) advertising month-to-date in July is down nearly 50% versus a year ago. With families waiting to understand school reopening plans, brands are waiting to promote BTS messages.
  • Retailers are also delaying BTS advertising: by this time last year Staples, Target, and JC Penny had already started advertising for BTS. This year, Walmart is the only ”big promoter” retailer running BTS ads this early in the season.
  • 3 out of 4 households (77%) indicate that their BTS shopping experience will be different with 1 in 3 households (30%) indicating they will not bring their children to stores for the normal school supply selection.
  • 2 of 5 households (41%) plan to primarily shop online and have their supplies delivered. 1 in 4 will use Click & Collect for school supplies creating a partial “school trip” experience.
  • With fewer consumers expected to walk the BTS aisle in-store, brands are expected to bet big on TV. Despite the slow start to the BTS ad season, TV has already jumped in share of ads (by count) from 19% in 2019 to 33% in 2020.
  • After years of very predictable performance, promotional spend (tracked in three key categories: school supplies, electronics and apparel) is also highly disrupted — with a 50% drop in promotional activity month-to-date in July, coupled with a dramatic shift from print to web-based promotion.
  • One notable standout among the “heavy promotions” brands is Amazon — which continues to increase promotional activity for these three categories.


“The lack of clarity on back to school is both understandable and frustrating. Two-thirds of consumers report they still don’t know if their kids will be in live or virtual classrooms.  As consumers wait to see what back to school looks like, brands and retailers are waiting too,” said Eric Belcher, CEO, Numerator. “Back-to-school ad and promo activity is down 50% with significant swings to TV for ads and web-based promotions — with more volatility expected.”

The third component of the index, on BTS purchasing behavior, will be live later in July. Early insight into consumer sentiment includes:

  • Households expecting to buy school supplies dropped from 94% in 2019 to 78% in 2020.
  • 4 in 5 households expect to spend the same on school supplies, but expect the mix to shift.
  • The mix shift will include disinfectants and sanitizers: 62% of households anticipate purchasing disinfecting wipes or spray, with 67% anticipating buying hand sanitizer — nearly keeping pace with the 77% of households planning to buy pens/pencils and paper/notebooks.
  • 13% of households plan on purchasing electronics such as laptops, tablets or printers. This number is 3x higher among households that already know that their children will be attending classes online.

A note on methodology:

  • The BTS Advertising Index counts ads with BTS messaging and keywords across all categories.
  • The BTS Promotions Index monitors activity for brands across both online and offline channels for three categories: school supplies, electronics and apparel.

As the only omnichannel consumer insights panel in the US, Numerator can quantify consumer behavior for the same household across channels, retailers and trips to provide a faster, more complete look at their purchase behavior. This provides brands the ability to stay ahead of changing consumer behavior and adjust their marketing and promotional tactics to reach and influence consumers where they shop.

About Numerator

Numerator is a data and tech company serving the market research space. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, Numerator has 1,600 employees worldwide. The company blends proprietary data with advanced technology to create unique insights for the market research industry that has been slow to change. The majority of Fortune 100 companies are Numerator clients.

View this release on PR Newswire.



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