Every year I look forward to seeing my family and friends’ children’s excited faces waiting for their school bus on the first day of school. It has become a tradition. And we reminisce how time flies and how tall and grownup our children have gotten since last year. Those first day of school photos looked a lot different this year. I’ve been seeing the at-home desk setups with a laptop in front of those smiling faces. Definitely can’t tell how much taller they got sitting down at their home office school.

Of course, the shift to virtual school also meant big changes in how these families did their back-to-school (BTS) shopping and how our clients executed their back-to-school promotions.

mariane home school 2020

Photo in courtesy of a gapper Adrienne Spear, Printer Supplies Analyst

Back-to-School Shopping 2020

This summer, parents and caretakers of children across the country had much to consider. Planning the remote learning environment for a successful school year was no easy task for most households. Computer manufacturers also had to adapt to this new reality of working and learning from home. Early in the pandemic, the best these companies could do was react, while this back-to-school season was the first significant COVID promotional period that the electronics industry could actually plan ahead for. That’s what makes the changes to this year’s BTS marketing and merchandising messaging so interesting.

DB Screenshot

gap intelligence Dashboard Advertisement Images Card

Did you know that the gap intelligence Dashboard makes this advertising and merchandising analysis possible? In addition to the advertising and promotional data that we are famous for, gap intelligence clients also have access to a full archive of circular and banner ad images to analyze how these ads look and what they say.

As you might expect, this year’s visual messages were very different. It’s certainly not every year notebook computers set up in a kitchen are advertised alongside essential PC peripheral products and hand sanitizers. The messaging went from feature sets and value in 2019 to addressing consumers’ immediate needs and creating the right home environment 2020. Here are some examples of what made BTS 2020 advertisements different from any other year.


2020 – Staples BTS 2020 ad shows that they understood their shoppers’ new situation, adopting the “Learning 2.0” tagline and encouraging parents to “Bring the Classroom Home to Your Students.”

2020 – Staples also addressed their core clients, business users, including a dedicated WHF page with a “Remote and Ready – All your WFH Essentials” message, and showed a lifestyle image of a notebook PC set up on a kitchen counter.

2019 – Staples’ 2019 PC page didn’t seem to consider where these devices would be used or who would be using them, instead promoting “Powerful, dependable PCs at a great value.”Staples 2019

Office Depot/Office Max

2020 – Office Depot’s “Work from Anywhere, Learn from Anywhere” 2020 message covering both workers and students, no matter where they are located. That “anywhere” even extended to kids who are actually leaving their house for school, as it included backpacks.

2019 – Last year, the office supply chain put a lot less focus on “where” their PCs would be used, instead focusing on their 2-in1s’ performance and Chromebooks’ straightforward use case.OD 2019


2020 – Target’s “Study Spot” back to school ad was pretty simple at first glance, showing a Chromebook and a Monitor alongside some calculators and a handful of other tech items. That might suggest to some that Target was less focused on 2020’s big study-from-home shift, but…

2019 – Considering that Target’s BTS 2019 positioned their PC ad for students heading into the dorm, this was a big (and very 2020) change.

TG 2019

Although not unexpected, these marketing changes are important and will continue to be on display in retail circular and banner ads until COVID-19 is behind us. And when that happens, gap intelligence clients can keep an eye on our Advertisement Images tool to see how the same retail circulars promote these products for people headed back back to the classroom and the office.

Contact your gap intelligence account manager or info@gapintelligence.com to discuss putting this analysis together for your product category.