Extend back-to-school creative through to the holidays
David Sanderson
September 28, 2017

This year’s back-to-school shopping season began with high expectations. Sales predictions exceeded $74 billion, or roughly 17% of all retail sales this year. But back-to-school shopping doesn’t end with the first day of class. Back-to-school is its own season, extending through the fall months and giving way to the winter holidays.

That season is in full swing. Marketers can take full advantage and set themselves up for a successful holiday season by having a good sense of the distinctive opportunities and tools available to them. Many marketers do not fully understand the subtleties of developing impactful cross-device campaigns for screens as diverse as TV, desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile.

The key to differentiation and consumer engagement, particularly for brands buying programmatically and across devices, is attention-grabbing creative.

Think cross-functionally about digital advertising

There has long been a delineation between budgets for different advertising formats, such as rich media or video. For example, many marketers think about video and display advertising in silos, when there is a place for both formats to thrive cohesively. Because of the varied types of ad formats, it's important to understand the value of experiential creative, such as augmented reality and 360-degree video, and to run campaigns with consistent and complementary messaging across devices.

Standard video ads are easy to move from TV to desktop and vice versa, but they are not always easily transferable to mobile. Vertical video, as an example, allows for a brand to specifically reach mobile audiences in a way that makes sense from a functionality and creativity standpoint. Snapchat has been ahead of the vertical game and in 2015 noted its vertical ads had up to nine times more completed views than horizontal ads. Another study even found 65% of consumers view brands using vertical video as more innovative than companies that do not use it.

Integrating vertical video into highly engaging holiday campaigns, however, requires a nuanced understanding of framing, editing and device mechanics. Rather than just repurposing a TV spot, marketers can create device-appropriate executions that give the viewer the best possible experience. Above all, marketers should always prioritize a device-appropriate, seamless brand experience.

Be creative strategically, not just visually

In the age of ad blocking and rising consumer awareness of ad blocking tools, marketers must be hyper-sensitive to the consumer experience. Consumers are not against ads: They’re just against poorly targeted and executed creative experiences.

By properly vetting first-party data, marketers can find insights on consumer interests and lifestyle, and deliver ads to the most relevant group of viewers. If you have compelling content, dress it up to really engage the consumer. Most importantly, ads must have the proper aesthetics, perform well and ultimately provide some form of value to the viewer.

Know your audience's shopping nuances

Providing a consumer with a benefit or upfront need to interact with your ad is crucial to performance. For example, during the back-to-school season a retailer may have had different types of goods for sale based on location. States like Florida start school in August when the weather is hot and calls for warm weather clothing. A state like Vermont, however, usually starts school in September, requiring an entirely different wardrobe. A retailer can customize advertisements to engage users with different products based on the consumer's’ environment.

In the case of the holiday season, shopping is extremely personalized based on the consumer and the person for whom the consumer is buying. This is where mutually beneficial advertising strategies like buy-one-get-one-free may engage an individual shopping for themselves and a friend. It’s also important to acknowledge life events consumers may have experienced over the past year to authentically address their needs.

For example, a teen who got a driver's license over the summer may be looking for holiday bargains on a car. Based on this purchase, that teen’s parents are most likely going to purchase car-related items to give as Christmas gifts.

As the advertising industry continues to evolve, marketers are realizing the key to differentiation and consumer engagement ties back to creative as the main focus. That being said, creative ad formats will evolve at a rapid pace to keep up with ever-changing consumer behavior.

The industry will continue to expand its technological capabilities through experiential creative like augmented reality and 360-degree video. Marketers who follow these trends will be rewarded, ultimately running successful campaigns regardless of the season.

David Sanderson is the vice president of creative strategy and operations at Tapad.