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Walmart and Target in the Lead as Retail Brands Shell Out Big for Back-to-School

Back-to-school season is a form of torture for a lot of kids, but for many brands it’s a time of great joy—and major profit. We partnered with iSpot.tv, the real-time TV ad measurement company with attention and conversion analytics from more than eight million smart TVs, to see how retail brands allocated budgets to reach families.

Department stores spent an estimated $247.8 million on TV ads from July 1 through August 31, an increase of 9.3% over 2017’s $226.7 million during the same two-month period. These brands also reached more eyeballs: there was a total of 25 billion TV ad impressions this year created by over 106,000 airings, compared to last year’s 18.9 billion on over 92,000 commercial airings.

The main players stayed mostly steady in their rankings from 2017-2018, with Walmart and Target leading the way in spend.

Slightly more ads were seen by females (55.4%) over males (44.58%) — which makes a certain amount of sense, and even more so when looking at some of the networks that generated the most impressions: topping the list are NBC, ABC, CBS, HGTV and Food Network.

The most-seen campaign comes from Walmart and features music by the Black Eyed Peas. The “Let’s Get It Started” campaign has racked up 2.4 billion TV ad impressions and seems to be playing up to the dads in the crowd with each version of the creative focusing on how fathers can order school supplies online for free same-day pickup in stores. (For the record, impressions data from iSpot reveals that females saw these ads 52.22% of the time, compared to males 47.78%)

It’s also worth noting that with over 9,000 airings of various ad lengths, the campaign has shown signs of creative wear. In fact, these Walmart ads are 23% more likely to be interrupted than other creative executions running for Walmart (interruptions include changing the channel, pulling up the guide, fast-forwarding or turning off the TV). A notable exception: the Spanish-language back-to-school spots Walmart has run more than 1,000 times, which are among the best performing.

Two other notable spots that won attention from viewers were Macy’s “2018 Back to School: The Edit,” which earned 510.5 million impressions and was 29% less likely to be interrupted than the industry average, and Target’s “2018 Back to School: Seize the Yay: Denim,” which was 11% less likely to face interruption, and earned 566.9 million impressions.