Target Moves To Head of the Class

Total media spending on ads mentioning Back-to-School reached $241.0 million in 2014, down 9 percent from the prior year. The top ten advertisers accounted for almost $150 million of this amount, a 62 percent share. (Note that these figures apply to ads with Back-to-School themes only, and total ad spend for the period would thus be higher.)Target won the overall season with spending of $34.9 million, nearly as much as the next two largest advertisers combined. Its leadership position in Back-to-School is striking because Target typically lags behind Walmart in overall spend, indicating a particularly strong strategic focus on this topic. Target’s advantage was due to its “tent pole” strategy of launching at a higher spend rate to get a jump start on rivals and then sustaining its budgets deeper into September.

During the fiercely competitive stretch from July 14-September 8, Target was the top spender in five out of eight weeks. Over the same period Target won the week six times against its narrower competitive set of department stores and mass merchandisers.


Target and Walmart took very different approaches to the merchandise lines featured in their seasonal advertising and there was surprisingly little head-to-head competition. Target focused on apparel, school supplies and a cause marketing program to help underprivileged students. Meanwhile, Walmart emphasized computer products and accessories, food items for the lunchbox and a general promotion message touting savings during its “Back-to-School Sales Event”.

Download our complete Back-to-School report for further insights and trends occurring during the season.

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