Back-to-School Creep Recedes as Retailers Push Back Ad Campaigns

Marketers Favor 15-Second Spots This Season

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It seems like back-to-school advertising starts earlier and earlier each summer. But not this year.

More marketers held their back-to-school spots until later in the season, according to ad tracking firm Ace Metrix. TV ads began airing in July, rather than in June, and July ad volume was down 40%, according to the data.

"It's interesting that advertisers are finally getting the message that consumers don't want to be rushed into back-to-school thinking," said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix, in an email. "Last year the first ad aired [on] June 21, while many kids were still in school!"

Back-to-school ads began airing "aggressively" in August, Mr. Daboll added, as retailers and other brands pushed back-to-school deals and styles, as well as more humourous and emotional messaging.

This year's TV spots were also shorter than in previous years, with marketers like Best Buy, Old Navy and JCPenney saving longer-form content for the web, the research showed. A majority, 60%, of the 46 back-to-school ads reviewed by Ace Metrix were 15 seconds long. Two years ago, 15-second spots made up 20% of the ads that aired during the season, with the vast majority lasting 30 seconds.

As usual, retailers ran the most back-to-school ads this season and scored the highest with consumers, according to Ace Metrix, which tracks ad effectiveness based on metrics like "likeability," "attention," "relevance" and "desire," or purchase intent. Relative newcomers to the back-to-school scene, including Tide and IHOP, also performed well. IHOP's "French Toast" spot connected with college students, while Tide's "Science Can Get Pretty Messy" tapped into school being back in session without focusing too much on product.

Top Ten Retail Ads for Back-to-School, According to Ace Metrix

1. Best Buy, "Student Deals"

2. JCPenney, "Huge Sale"

3. Old Navy, "Picture Day"

4. Staples, "Telling the Truth"

5. Kohl's, "Highest Style"

6. Target, "Big or Small"

7. Kohl's, "Get Cash"

8. Wal-Mart, "Unlimited"

9. Kohl's, "Great Times"

10. Office Depot, "King of Campus"

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