Back-to-School and OOH


In past years, the first few days of school were times of excitement. For kids, they looked forward to seeing school friends. For parents, as they look forward to the breath of air the routine brings. This year is a little different. In many districts, the pandemic meant schoolwork was done in the kitchen instead of the classroom. Parents were loathe to send their children unprotected into the world. But with vaccination efforts ongoing, many schools are opening their doors, welcoming kids back into their halls. While parents and children may feel anxiously eager about this return to normal, this means that the roads will be filled with bright yellow busses and carpooling caregivers commuting to schools, work, and after-school events. For OOH and mobile truck advertising, this shift can represent a huge boom in business.

From shifts in fashions to new retail spending categories, there are many back-to-school trends that OOH advertisers and their clients should be aware of.  Parents are anticipating spending more this year (both to compensate for less spending last year and an increase in the range of items needed). They are also looking to save the most amount of money while doing it. Capitalizing on OOH advertising’s sway with consumers and embracing new consumer outreach strategies are two of the ways that OOH advertisers can drive home business.

On the Road Again

Beyond our roles as caregivers, chauffeurs, and personal chefs, we parents are an economic powerhouse.  According to this article, back-to-school time provides the second-highest retail push, beaten only by the holidays. As the article notes, “combined K-12 and college spending for the current school year is a record $101.6 billion.” Its Four Points for advertisers are good advice for OOH and mobile truck advertisers. The author recommends that advertisers consider their location, set their budgets in advance, prioritize their resources, and review competitive research. Let’s look into each one in-depth and see how that could look when it comes to OOH

  1. Consider your location- While the article specifically talks about geographical location in terms of market base, for OOH this could be seen as: if you are marketing towards parents or children, are your outdoor billboards or mobile truck advertisements positioned on school bus routes where children and parents can see, or near locations where they would frequent? Consider the advantage of advertising laundry detergents or after school martial arts programs near soccer or football fields, where parents would be more able to draw parallels between the two.

  • Pardon the pun, but budgets are often the bottom lines. Especially after long periods of uncertainty, such as pandemic, being strategic with every dollar is essential. The article notes the trend towards digital advertising, however, after 18 months indoors would people, who are used to ads on their phones or computers be more or less likely to pay attention to them? Screen fatigue is real and using outdoor advertising can offer a reassuring sense of nostalgia while offering a better ROI.

Traditional billboard advertisements have the benefit of being seen from great distances. Making perfect use of long commuter routes or highways, these expansive canvasses can help reinforce buyer response or act as public safety reminders.  Creative advertising such as digital mobile billboards or mobile truck wraps, which are lower cost than traditional billboards and have the advantage of moving along predetermined routes, have their place as well. Especially when placed on standard delivery trucks, these outdoor advertisements move along bus routes during school commutes and can be easily positioned at different locations depending on where you anticipate your audience being. Knowing which advertising medium will give you the best dollar stretch.

  • Prioritizing resources. Like budgets, knowing what resources you have and employing them effectively can take your creative advertising campaign to the next level.  Do you have an in-house advertising department or are you looking to outsource most of the work? If you are looking to outsource, what value does the agency or advertising company offer? Do they strictly run the advertisements on billboards or through mobile truck advertising? Or do they also offer real-time analytics and data analysis? These days it is not just about slapping an ad on a billboard and calling it a day, waiting for the campaign to run its course before evaluating it. Make your creative advertising work for you. Leverage every advantage you can out of it.

  • Reviewing competitive research. This is the nitty-gritty of it. Educating yourself on what your competition is doing, what is working, what is not. If your direct competitor is using traditional billboards, do you want to compete with them there or go another route? Employing the same media strategy could leverage the work they have already done to prime the market, or it might oversaturate, causing the audience to disengage.

The most important thing to draw from these points can be summed up in one word: perspicacity. A $10 word that speaks to a person’s (or business’) ability to coolly assess, address, and act on the information and opportunities they have before them without being overwhelmed by uncertainty or fear. And there are opportunities.  After such a long period of anxiety, people are ready to leave that behind and embrace the new again.

A Welcome Change of Pace


For most parents, back-to-school is presenting a chance to breathe again. We have all heard of the “second shift”, the extra load that working parents bear after they come home. Picking up the kids and driving them to school, driving them to practices, cleaning the house, doctors’ appointments, getting them ready for bed, and more beyond. During the pandemic, this second shift became a 24/7 job as parents and kids both sheltered in place. A recent OOAA study showed that 64 percent of consumers welcomed the return of in-person schooling, in part because it relieved them of the 24/7 caregiving they had been doing. Parents of preschool children were the most excited, 88% of them reported as welcoming back-to-school. With most reporting that they will be spending more than they did last year, there is much here to capitalize on.

OOH advertising, in particular, is primed for success as three out of five respondents said that they will be looking to OOH to help inform their purchasing decisions. That number was even higher amongst 25–34-year-olds. One interesting thing to note is how consumers are expecting OOH advertising to connect digitally: nearly two-thirds (62%) expect OOH to provide discounts through QR codes, NFC’s or SMS.

So, imagine that laundry detergent campaign from earlier. A mobile truck advertising your brand pulls up to a field or ballpark during a match or series of matches. People can walk up and scan a QR code on the side of the truck as the drivers’ hand out samples or coupons as well. Imagine promoting a contest where if they take a picture with themselves and the truck, uploading the pic to Twitter or Instagram, using a specially chosen hashtag for the chance to win detergent for a year. Embedded marketing at its best.  Parents anticipate spending over $500 on school supplies alone, so offering them the potential to save on laundry is something they may leap at.

Employing creative advertising in this way benefits both you and your audience. 53 percent of respondents stated that OOH is restoring their confidence, even as 32 percent of back-to-school purchases were expected to be done online. Many people opt to shop online as it is seen as easier, cheaper, and more convenient for families on the go.  By tying your OOH campaign to a digital campaign, you can engage with them and reinforce their buying decisions.

What’s Trending for Back-To-School

One thing that is important when looking at back-to-school and OOH advertising is what trends are occurring. While keeping on top of current fashion trends may not seem necessary for OOH advertising, understanding what is driving these shifts is. As this Forbes article points out the mixed casual/dressy looks that students will be seen wearing is directly related to spending long periods of time on the couch in comfortable sweats and yoga pants. The article also points out the increase in popularity of high-top sneakers and pantsuits. It specifically notes the pantsuit as being more “genderfluid”, indicating a cultural shift in attitudes, and high-tops speak to the nostalgia for the ’80s and early ’90s, similar to how bell-bottom jeans made a come back in the ’90s and early aughts. The themes of comfort, playfulness, consistency, nostalgia, and blurring of gender lines can be transplanted from the hallways and runways to the outdoor billboard. Creating campaigns that call back to the feelings these fashions evoke.

When it comes to back-to-school purchases, KPMG notes that kids are mostly to shop for clothing and accessories, while for parents they are budgeting for the following: clothing, footwear, school supplies, PPE and health supplies.  The same article states that 60 percent of consumers plan on engaging with retailer marketing through OOH advertisements. Some of the tactics that the article recommends include employing flash sales or promotions, contests, and offering digital promo codes—a move echoed earlier in this article. All these strategies can be easily implemented in a creative advertising campaign such as mobile truck advertising or using a digital billboard. At a time when people are expecting to spend more but wanting to do it more strategically, offering these codes and promotions can help differentiate your campaign.

As discussed above, fashion and apparel are trends to follow. Clothing and apparel spending is set to increase by 46 percent over last year, and technology is anticipating growth as well. This back-to-school season is anticipated to be the largest grossing in 5 years. Another one that might become a permanent part of back-to-school spending is health supplies and PPE. From face masks to hand sanitizers, these items are becoming part of our daily lives. Both as fashion accessories and PPE, these may become as permanent here as they are overseas. As school districts continue to enforce mask policies in order to prevent further outbreaks, masks may be as commonplace as gym shoes on school supply lists. Along with traffic safety warnings and vaccine reminders, we may see a renewed series of outdoor billboard PSA’s advocating further mask use until the virus is beaten.

Another reason that masks and hand sanitizer may become permanent is cold and flu season. Last year was the first year that we did not see a resurgence of this semi-annual event. Children and germs are synonymous and often bring home viruses spread around the schoolyard. Masking up helps prevent this, and so we might see outdoor billboards advertising mask use during cold and flu season to slow the spread.

This back-to-school season is one of the most challenging in recent memory. After 18 months of social distancing and remote learning, both children and parents are cautiously eager about going out back into the world. While things cannot go back completely to how they were before the pandemic, the sight of yellow school busses traveling down the streets and kids playing in the schoolyard return serves to remind us that life does go forward. There are a lot of opportunities out there for creative outdoor advertising, and for those looking at reaching out to parents, OOH can help you succeed.

Talk to a Mobile Billboard specialist today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *