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How to Build the Best Back to School Ads, According to Data

How to Build the Best Back to School Ads, According to Data

Build your most clickable classroom with creative insights from AI. Here are tips on how brands can make the most of their ads. 

Parents are stocking up on supplies. Teachers are preparing lesson plans. And students are getting ready to start a new school year, full of possibilities. Yes, it’s almost back to school season, and brands are getting ready, too

If you’re advertising anything education-related, artificial intelligence has insights into which objects, settings, and activities will make your campaigns as clickable as possible.

Of course, classic classroom settings are a given in advertising, but how can you maximize their potential by including the right casting options and accessories?

The answers can be found in data, and AI has surfaced them. 

By exploring more than a decade’s worth of back to school ads, and cross-analyzing them with today’s current trends, Shutterstock.AI has revealed: 

  • Extracurricular activities: Which ones get the most clicks? 
  • Art supplies or STEM supplies: Do audiences engage with one more than the other? 
  • School settings: Which locations are most likely to capture attention and drive conversions? 

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Artificial intelligence can teach us a lesson or two on the content that performs best for campaigns right now.

Here’s your data-backed creative cheat sheet. 


Red theater curtain with yellow accents
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Extracurricular Activities: Choose Creative Pursuits and Endurance Sports

Let’s look at the fun stuff first. Extracurricular activities are entertaining, but they also have benefits to round out an educational experience.

Creative pursuits and sports can improve academic performance and build self-esteem. Considering that, it’s no wonder that both are paying off for advertisers, as well. 

Interestingly, theater is the most clickable extracurricular activity of all. AI found that auditoriums are the most clickable school setting (more on that later), so this makes complete sense.

If your ads have the opportunity to showcase students’ acting chops, AI says to go for it. Even if you’d rather showcase a playwright in your ads, now’s the time.

The click-through rate (CTR) of showing a person writing has risen 111% since this time last year.

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Beyond theater, a couple of other creative endeavors stand out among advertising data. Musical instruments have seen their click-through rates (CTRs) rise 223% over the last year.

Marching bands and orchestras have both seen their CTRs rise too, but orchestras are 224% more clickable than marching bands.  

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School sports are arguably the most popular extracurricular activity, and data tells us that endurance-focused athletics perform best in ads right now.

Out of all school sports measured, running is the most clickable, with a CTR that’s risen 169% since this time last year. Swimming is the second most clickable sport.

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View of the top of a yellow school bus on the streets of New York
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Selecting Settings: Choose Spots Outside the Classroom

When studying the best of today’s advertising data, Shutterstock.AI found that venturing outside of the classroom is the most clickable option for advertisers looking to promote an education-related campaign.

Various settings around schools and campuses perform much better! In fact, auditoriums are the most clickable school setting of all, with a CTR that’s risen 750% since last summer.

Stage view of empty seats in a theater
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Hallways are today’s second most clickable school setting, with a CTR that’s skyrocketed 1,233%. We suggest showing kids walking to class or socializing with friends at their lockers. 

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Libraries are 150% more clickable this back to school season compared to last year. Laboratories are also 200% more clickable.

And even though football isn’t the most engaging sport with audiences, football fields have seen their CTR rise 32% over the last year.

Perhaps your next campaign can feature a marching band practicing on the field for an extra boost in clickability. 

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Group of children viewing painting at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
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School Supplies: The Arts Are In

Over the last decade or so, there has been a prolonged debate over whether the arts or science-based subject matters are more important. (Both are necessary, so let’s stop arguing already!)

Since schools offer both to students, we decided to take a deep-dive into which of their supplies are most engaging right now. 

When it comes to art supplies, AI tells us that markers are the most clickable. In fact, the CTR of markers has risen 700% over the last year alone.

Painting is a popular activity among students, and data tells us that the CTR of paint in photos has trended up 306% since last summer.

Hand-in-hand with paint, canvases have seen their clickability climb 88% over the same time period.

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Interestingly, pens have seen their CTR lift 290% since last school year. They’re 23% more clickable than pencils right now. 

Teenage girl with long hair in a ponytail studying at home
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A boy pushing a table into a room at the Green Science Fair
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STEM Supplies: Clickable Computers and More

STEM—subject matters that encapsulate science, technology, engineering, and math—are top priorities among many academic institutions around the world. If you’d prefer to showcase educational imagery that falls into these categories, data has delivered a few helpful insights.

Out of all technological devices measured, AI tells us that laptops are the most engaging with audiences right now. The click-through rate of laptops has risen 100% since this time last year.

In fact, laptops are 35% more clickable than calculators. They’re also 214% more clickable than tablets, despite the growth in popularity of tablets within classrooms over the last several years.

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In other areas of the STEM spectrum, we see some very clickable science-focused props performing well. Microscopes have seen their CTR rise 115% over the last year. Globes have also seen their clickability rise 285% over the same time period.

This goes to show that small details—such as selecting photos with specific props in them—can give advertising campaigns an extra push to capture audience attention. 

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Creative Casting: How to Spotlight Students

When it comes to back to school ads, brands need to feature students! Data tells us that kids are the most clickable age range of students to feature in ads. In fact, children are 7% more clickable than teenagers right now.

This shows that spotlighting elementary schools, rather than high schools, in your ads will likely give your ROI a boost. 

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Of course, back to school fashion is huge in the advertising world. While we’ve certainly seen classic fashion staples trend up this year (backpacks’ CTR has risen 178%, for example), AI tells us that a couple of particular clothing items are among today’s most engaging with audiences.

Uniforms have seen their CTR surge 700% since this time last year. Alongside uniforms, graduation gowns are also up, having risen 117% in clickability.

Data shows that, even though a new school year is about to begin, advertisers can keep the ultimate goal of graduation in mind, when planning creative campaigns.

Six panels of students jumping and dancing in school attire and accessories
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