What media are back-to-school shoppers consuming most?

Back-to-school marketing may start in mid-summer, but search trends show parents are tuning in differently.
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For back-to-school advertising, the media plan for many retailers seems to follow a similar pattern: start the media plan in August. Or perhaps late July. Or maybe even mid-July.

A new study by MiQ, however, shows that consumer behaviour around back-t0-school time and media consumption might be more last-minute.

MiQ’s study, which looked at 1.2 million Canadian households with children between the ages of four and 16, found that online searches for school supplies have peaked later and later for the last three years. Since 2016, searches have only started to rise around the middle of Q2 (summer) and peak in Q3 (fall). Last year, that rise only began at the tail end of Q2, peaking shortly after the start of Q3. The study noted that many Canadians continue their shopping well into mid-September, meaning media buys for back-to-school should be extended well past that crucial Labour Day weekend.

And, with more than two-thirds of Canadian families buying at least some school supplies online, search is playing a bigger part than ever in the back-to-school purchase journey. And although mobile placements are sure to be effective – 20% of respondents say they do their back-to-school research on their smartphone – desktop still has value. An even greater number (24%) do their searches on a laptop, and 15% do so on a desktop.

As crucial a part as search plays, marketers still have to find a way to reach the 22% of people who say they don’t do any research as all.

One of the key ways to do so is through TV buying. The medium still plays a crucial role in back-to-school time, which is probably why Staples has spent the last two decades running multiple, refreshed iterations of its “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” TV campaign.

For reaching the obvious audiences – people watching kids programming – viewership peaks between 2 and 6 p.m. with a sharp drop-off at 7 p.m. Between these hours, kids’ content sees between a 12% and 16% audience share.

Despite this, kids’ content isn’t the only place to reach family viewers, and in fact there are genres which still reach a higher penetration during these key hours. News sees a low of 13% and a high of 24% penetration during this window, and sports see between 11% and 21%. And although reality TV takes a dip in the late afternoon, after the kids’ block ends at 6 p.m., reality captures between 16% and 23% of the share of audiences.

Earlier in the day, entertainment and news rules among households with kids, with entertainment reaching its daytime peak of 24% at 8 a.m. and news reaching its peak of 24% at 11 a.m.

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