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Drive conversions and revenue this back-to-school season with a direct-response ad channel that delivers strong results.

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    Your Study Guide to Acing Back-to-School Season

    To succeed this year you need to tap into two major trends that emerged in 2020 and have continued well into 2021—the massive increase in online shopping and streaming television.

    People shopped online last year. A lot. Online sales increased 32.4% in 20201, surpassing $790 billion in total consumer spending. 2020 also saw the rise of Connected TV (CTV) as millions turned to streaming to watch their favorite shows. Global viewership grew 36% year-over-year2, with viewing time increasing as much as 81%3 in the US compared to 2019.

    Combine those two trends into an ad strategy that delivers strong performance. Savvy marketers have already adjusted their strategies in response and incorporated direct-response CTV into their mix—and their results prove it to be a must-have for advertisers looking to drive conversions and revenue.

    The back-to-school shopping season is fast approaching, with 27% of K-12 and roughly 32% college of shoppers planning to start as early as July. This guide is designed to help you reach those shoppers and build a strategy that drives site visits, conversions, revenue and more. School is in session—let’s dive in.

    When Exactly is "Back-to-School"?

    Since school districts determine when classes go back in session, there’s no official back-to-school (BTS) day. Instead it stretches from late July all the way until the end of September.

    Data collected from Pew Research shows that nearly half of K-12 students (48%) go back the third and fourth weeks of August. Colleges tend to start fall semester from mid-August to early September as well. For the purposes of this guide we’ll use the 3rd week of August for our official BTS marker, as it has the highest percentage of returning students.

    The length of BTS season is a reason why it’s so lucrative for retailers. It’s an opportunity to generate strong revenue from motivated consumers—all of whom are working on a deadline to be ready for the first day of school.

    The Stats

    What Did BTS Shoppers Do Last Year?

    We analyzed over $3.5 billion in transactions throughout the 2020 BTS season to get a better sense of how shoppers behaved. When we look at the overall MNTN network of advertisers, the trends show that revenue and site visits swapped momentum over time. Site visits increased while revenue gradually declined.

    We then broke out advertisers who fall into BTS-related verticals, including school supply retailers and others that attract BTS purchases like consumer electronics, clothing & apparel, and home goods.

    Shopping behavior was decidedly different when compared to the entire pool of advertisers. While site visits remained more or less steady (minus a major increase in early July due to clothing retailers’ summer sales), revenue jumped in mid August—coinciding with the week 29% of US students returned to school.

    The data suggests many shoppers waited to spend more as the school year approached. The increases in revenue align with the weeks in August that saw more students start class, meaning there was plenty of last-minute BTS shopping.

    The Stats

    Before and After School Started

    We analyzed BTS retailers’ campaigns to see if there was any difference between the periods before and after4 school’s start. The answer is yes, and it’s tied to how much they spend.

    When Did They Visit?

    Shopper interest was consistent before and after school started. There was a steady flow of shoppers researching purchases, making smaller buys, and steadily engaging with BTS retailers.

    When Did They Convert?

    BTS retailers saw the bulk of the seasons’ conversions come before school started. This was due in part to clothing retailers’ summer sales in July which resulted in higher amounts of conversions early on.

    When Did They Spend Big?

    Shoppers purchased high-value items in September and August; this aligns with high-value items’ longer sales cycles. Nearly $3 out of every $5 were spent after school started for most students.

    What Will BTS Shoppers Do This Year?

    Shoppers will be looking for ways to strengthen students’ academic skills, adapt to the effects of at-home learning, and shop earlier and more often.

    Summer School Shopping

    Studies have shown remote-learning to be less effective than in-person classes. There’s a bigger focus on summer school this year, and not just for kids who fell behind. Experts are recommending summer school for all students to help social and academic skills get back on track.


    of school districts are providing summer learning online.


    of schools are recommending summer school only for children who aren’t falling behind academically.5

    Expecting a Longer BTS Season

    A decent percentage of shoppers aren’t sure if they’ll be buying for in-person or at-home learning, so this will likely stretch the sales cycle.

    Some retailers like Target extended their BTS offerings last year, and it’s likely we’ll see the same this year.6

    BTS spending hit a record-high of $789 per family last year, and it’s expected to rise this year as well as shoppers buy for both in-person and at-home scenarios.

    Getting a Head Start

    The increase in summer school will likely lead to earlier shopping, so be sure your strategy is ready to roll out as early as June.


    of shoppers say they’ll start shopping during the first two weeks of July or earlier.7

    Need a way to keep back-to-school consumer trends top of mind? Download your copy of the guide.

    Download the Full Guide

    The Strategy

    Strike a Remote,In-Person Balance

    Last year saw many schools cancel in-person classes and switch to remote learning. But that’s changing this year as restrictions ease.

    According to US federal data, nearly half of public schools were open for full-time, face-to-face classes in early 20218—and it’s likely that percentage will increase for the fall semester due to increased vaccinations and lower positive cases.

    That said, we’re not out of the woods yet. The world is still struggling with COVID-19, and there’s still uncertainty with what the immediate future holds. Combined with the fact that not all students may return to in-person classes this fall means your strategy will need to account for both remote and in-person learning this year.

    The Strategy

    Advertise to Both Audiences

    With a national audience split buying for both at-home and in-person learning, you’ll need to cater to both types of shoppers.

    Be sure to research the in-person school status for regions you have a lot of customers. It’s likely the in-person/remote split will be heavily influenced by geography, so keep that in mind. Here are a few other things to remember as you build this year’s BTS strategy for these two types of shoppers.

    At-Home Shoppers

    Remote learning suggests a possibility of restrictions around in-person shopping, so this group may be more inclined to buy online.

    At-Home Shopper
    • Ramp up your direct-response strategy to capture conversions through your ecommerce portal.
    • Include powerful CTAs and a means to navigate directly to your site to drive visits and conversions.
    • Offer deals on shipping, or highlight quick delivery. If you have physical retail locations, feature curbside pickup options.

    In-Person Shoppers

    In-person classes mean it’s likely shoppers have access to brick-and-mortar retailers. That said, the massive increase in online shopping last year (+32% YoY) suggests they’ll buy online as well.

    In-Person Shopper
    • Just like with at-home shoppers, prioritize a direct-response strategy to tap into more online conversions.
    • If you have open physical locations, be sure you let your audience know.
    • Shoppers embraced convenience-first options over the past year, so be sure to feature curbside pickup, free/fast shipping, or anything else that makes it easier to buy.

    The Strategy

    Take a Full Funnel Approach

    BTS shoppers are consistently visiting retailers’ sites over the course of the season. Coupled with the fact that most revenue was generated after school started means you’ll need to bring these shoppers down the entire sales funnel—from awareness to conversion.

    Stat Flashback: Consistent Visits, Steadily Increasing Revenue

    Awareness & Branding: Prospecting

    33% of shoppers purchased from a new retailer in 20209. Shoppers were driven by convenience and value, and looked for brands that could offer them what they needed in a new shopping environment. This presents an enormous opportunity to claim market share from the competition.

    Launch Early

    Your first BTS campaigns should be live in June and no later than early July—we usually recommend launching prospecting up to 60 days before an event or holiday.

    Find New Audiences

    Put your market research to work by leveraging 3rd party audience data. Match audience segments based on interests, demographic, geography to your ideal customer profile to bring in new shoppers who could be a good fit for your brand.

    Incorporate CTV

    Consumers will spend less time on social networks, desktop, and tablets in 2021 but CTV will build on the gains it made in 202010. Include CTV ads as part of your prospecting strategy.

    Re-Engagement & Revenue: Retargeting

    The data shows higher spending later in the season and BTS sales cycle, which means there is a lot of potential revenue to be won by re-engaging your audience.

    Launch a Few Weeks Before Class

    We recommend launching a BTS-focused retargeting campaign 3 weeks before class is in session, then leaving it running throughout September to capture late, high-value conversions.

    Target Based on Intent

    Examine your users’ onsite behavior to see what actions indicate a higher likelihood to convert, then segment your audience based on your findings; we recommend targeting cart abandoners and users who visited multiple pages.

    Retarget on CTV

    CTV ads are especially effective at prompting viewers to take action—these should feature heavily in your strategy.

    The Strategy

    Reach Valuable BTS Audiences

    Based on last year’s consumer patterns and this year’s expected trends, we’ve highlighted valuable audiences for prospecting and retargeting that every BTS retailer should consider.

    Back to School Audiences

    Prospecting & Third Party Audiences

    1. BTS Shoppers | Go big with your audience targeting and start with this curated set of shoppers. It includes in-market shoppers and those who previously purchased BTS products.

      • Search: "back to school" in the Performance TV audience builder

        • Holidays & Special Events > Special Events > Back to School
        • Oracle > Seasonal and Holiday > Fall > Back to School > Teens
    2. College Students | These segments include those exhibiting purchase intent for back-to-college products, and target college aged students who will be shopping for themselves.

      • Search: "back to school" and "college"

        • Oracle > Seasonal and Holiday > Back to School > Back to College
        • Seasonal > Back to School > College Students
    3. High Spenders | Target these audiences to make sure your ads reach high-spending shoppers. Our data shows they’re most active toward the back half of the season, but you’ll need early touch points with prospecting campaigns early on to ensure you get the sale.

      • Search: "back to school" and "top tier spend"

        • Mastercard > Top Tier Spender > Back to School Shoppers
    4. Parents of School and College Kids | Target shoppers with spending power by focusing on parents with kids of all ages.

      • Search: "moms," "dads," "kids," and "college age"

        • Seasonal > Back to School > Moms with College Students
        • US Data > AmeriLink Consumer Buying Behavior > Back to School Shoppers: Kids 3-11
        • Consumer > Seasonal > Back to School > Shoppers with High School Aged Kids
    5. High Income, Major Purchases | Whether it's buying a new computer for at-home learning, a desk for a home office, or new home goods to liven up a learning environment—there are plenty of shoppers planning big purchases during BTS season.

      • Search: "home office" and "home decor buyers"

        • Consumer > Interests > Business & Finance > Small Business > Home Office
        • Target Ready > Behavior Models > Household > Business & Finance > Home Office
        • Brands > Consumer Product > Home Improvement & Decor

    Retargeting & First Party Audiences

    When building audiences for your retargeting campaigns, focus on high-intent behavior visitors took on your site. Whether they browsed products with high price tags, or viewed multiple products, these are shoppers likely to convert.

    Here are a few different types of behaviors or actions we recommend building audiences around.

    • Multiple or frequent site visits
    • High number of viewed pages
    • Viewed high-price products
    • Items added to their cart

    Want to drive serious performance with retargeting and prospecting campaigns? Download your copy of the guide for Performance TV strategies for free—no signup, no form to fill.

    Download the Full Guide

    Strategy Spotlight

    Performance TV

    We’ve noted the rise in online shopping (+32%) and the increase in time spent streaming (+81%). Direct-response Connected TV advertising sits right at the intersection of those two trends, and we highly recommend tapping into this lucrative ad channel for your BTS strategy.

    MNTN BTS campaigns performed extremely well in 2020, and it’s due to Performance TV’s ability to drive visits, conversions, and revenue.

    2020 Campaign Benchmarks


    Verified Visit Rate




    Cost per Visit

    Performance TV is purpose-built to take advantage of consumers’ television habits and drive measurable visits, conversions, and revenue. Here are a few of the key features Performance TV offers—and ones your ad CTV solution will need as well.

    • Automated Media Buying | Based on the campaign’s budget and goal, our optimization technology tailors bidding, targeting, and frequency to reach high-intent shoppers.
    • Audience Extension | Every Performance TV campaign serves related display ads across web and mobile, automatically expanding campaign presence to every device in the household.
    • Living Room Quality | We curate inventory based on performance data; ads are served exclusively on television screens and top-tier CTV networks like Hulu, ESPN, MTV, and more. This elevates brand perception, captures the power of TV advertising, and leverages viewers’ second-screen habits.
    • Cross-Device Verified Visits | This tracks when a viewer sees your ad on TV, and whether they visit your site and convert on a different device. It doesn’t take credit if a user interacts with a different ad before visiting—showing your campaign’s true impact.
    • Cross-Device Google Analytics Integration | Measure campaign performance in the fully customizable reporting suite or in Google Analytics—allowing you to track your progress right alongside the rest of your digital campaigns.

    Strategy Spotlight

    Tap Into Consumer CTV Trends

    It’s not just the fact more people are watching CTV—it’s how they’re watching it that’s valuable to BTS advertisers. Performance TV is uniquely suited to tap into these trends and transform them into measurable visits and revenue.

    Tap Into Consumer CTV Trends

    Second Screen Habits | People don’t just watch TV anymore—they multitask. Viewers frequently have another device in-hand while watching, which presents a unique opportunity: viewers who see your ad can immediately navigate to your site to shop.

    • Nearly 90% of viewers use a second digital device while watching TV11
    • 65% use a second screen to look up brands advertised while streaming.12

    Connect With Co-viewers | People tend to watch CTV together, and families are even more likely to do so.

    • 35-49 year olds are most likely to watch with others.13
    • Families report frequent co-viewing with children.
    • 62% of surveyed parents say CTV was the preferred device for co-viewing.14

    Ad-Supported CTV is Thriving | When you think CTV, you may think of subscription services like Netflix or Disney+. But a vast majority of CTV viewers watch ad-supported networks.

    • 80% of CTV viewers regularly watch ad-supported content.15
    • 60% see CTV ads as “fair-value” for less expensive options16

    Reach the Right Viewers | Young and old alike watch CTV which means campaigns reach viewers with influence and purchasing power.

    • Children influence up to 50% of BTS purchases.17
    • Over 45 million Gen Zers, 56 million millennials, and 48 million Gen Xers stream CTV on a regular basis.18

    Strategy Spotlight

    Creative Best Practices

    CTV is a new ad channel for plenty of advertisers—in fact 60% of advertisers using Performance TV have never advertised on television before. There are even new concepts that experienced TV advertisers need to know when it comes to direct-response CTV. Here’s a quick rundown on what you should do with your creative strategy for both BTS and CTV.

    Creative Best Practices

    Make it Direct-Response | When it comes to CTV ads, you need to tell your audience what to do and where to go. They can’t visit your site or convert on TV after all, so you need to ensure they know what’s expected.

    • Include a visual and audible CTA in your CTV ad.
    • Make your logo prominent and keep a persistent URL throughout.

    With vs. Without | It’s extremely important to follow these best practices. We compared Performance TV advertisers who included them19 to those who did not to help illustrate why.

    • With a CTA:

      • 20% lower cost per visit
      • 85% higher conversion rate
    • With a logo and URL:

      • 11% lower cost per visit
      • 27% higher conversion rate
      • 7% higher Cross-Device Verified Visit rate

    At-Home and In-Person | Remember there will be a mix of at-home and in-person learners, so keep that in mind when developing your creative messaging.

    • If you expect a mix of both types, keep your message broad and leverage “no matter where you’re learning, you need to be ready for BTS” type messaging.
    • Even if your audience is mostly in areas with eased restrictions, it’s a good idea to incorporate a broad message to accommodate any changes to in-person learning.

    Focus on Convenience | Remember one in three consumers shopped at a new retailer in 2020 due to convenience and value. It’s likely we’ll see that trend continue, so be sure to highlight any promotions you have on offer.

    • Doing curbside pickup? Offering great deals? Make sure your audience knows about it.
    • Offer free or quick shipping to accommodate last-minute shoppers.

    Audience Extension | Get the most out of Performance TV’s related web and mobile ads by aligning them with the message and aesthetic of your CTV creative.

    • Incorporate the same visuals and CTA in your display ads to drive brand and ad recall.
    • Incorporate dynamic elements like product carousels in your retargeting ads to feature items they already viewed on your site.

    Strategy Spotlight


    Performance TV prospecting does more than just raise awareness and site visits—it’s effective at driving conversions as well. That’s because it uses automated media buying to not only reach new audiences, but the shoppers within those audiences most likely to convert.

    • You drive new, highly-qualified traffic to your site
    • You attract site visitors who are more likely to convert
    • You generate conversions from the top of the funnel
    • You fill your first-party targeting pool, which you can retarget later on

    Pick Your Goal and the Optimizations Follow

    Performance TV offers three different campaign goals, two of which are focused on conversions. Selecting your goal not only establishes what success means, it tells Performance TV how to optimize your campaign.

    01 ROAS | This is your option if you’re trying to drive traffic that converts and spends big.

    02 eCPA | Go with this if you’re trying to drive visits and conversions at an efficient rate.

    03 Visits | Pick this if you’re only trying to maximize the amount of traffic reaching your site.

    04 Cost per Completed View | Select this option to ensure your campaign focuses on delivering your full message efficiently.

    Summer School and Prioritizing Conversions

    Students faced a lot of challenges with remote learning last year, so much so that educators are expanding summer school options in 2021.

    “Traditionally, summer school has been a program for kids that have not done well in school to try to make up,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “This year’s going to be different because now that applies to everybody.”

    With this in mind, we strongly recommend launching prospecting campaigns with conversion goals. This will allow you to raise awareness for BTS and simultaneously capture summer school purchases.

    Strategy Spotlight


    Every marketing strategy should incorporate retargeting—especially if it's done on CTV. We compared Performance TV retargeting to display-only retargeting, and the results speak for themselves.

    Performance TV Retargeting vs. Display-Only Retargeting


    Average Conversions


    Average Visits


    Average Cost per Acquisition

    Performance TV not only delivers retargeting ads on CTV, it uses Audience Extension to serve related display ads on web and mobile. This omnichannel approach, combined with automated media buying, delivers better results.

    Take Advantage of Summer Sales

    Conversions were higher in July, which means you have an opportunity to retarget shoppers who have already purchased from you. Since 41% of ecommerce retailers’ revenue is generated by just 8% of its customers, many of whom are repeat customers,20 this represents a major opportunity.

    • Retarget shoppers who converted in July by including them in your audience strategy.
    • Prioritize site visitors who purchased for summer school since they’ll be in-market for BTS later.
    • Consider launching retargeting campaigns earlier in the BTS season to capture summer school shoppers.

    Get Started

    Make the Grade With Performance TV

    Drive conversions and revenue this back-to-school season with a direct-response ad channel that delivers strong results.

    Fill out the form to speak to an expert and get started.

      This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

      4. MNTN Data, data analyzed from July 4th to September 30th, 20202; BTS date is August 18th
      19. MNTN Data, average rise or decrease in campaign performance

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