The period when pupils and students are about to return to school is as significant an event in the marketing world as, say, Christmas or Valentine's Day. Logically, however, it is mainly companies operating in very specifically oriented market segments that profit from it. For them, however, the reaction to the end of the summer holidays is essentially a question of survival or at least maintaining their important market position. The busiest companies during this period are all manufacturers and sellers of office supplies, clothing companies and this mosaic has been inherently completed in recent years by companies operating in the personal electronics market. And let's not forget the broad-based supermarkets that offer a little bit of everything. By the middle of the holiday season, they should all have long since answered the question - what campaign will we roll out at the end of August?
AN IMPORTANT PERIOD FOR MARKETING
One only has to look at the volume in the United States to realise the boundless sea of opportunity that the Back 2 school market presents. Annual reports from the National Retail Agency even talk about the fact that on average more than $80 billion is spent on related purchases during this specific season. That is equivalent to about USD 500 per household. These are also numbers that no experienced marketer can ignore. But all the established formulas have undergone a minor earthquake in recent years, which is of course due to the global pandemic that has moved more than one national school system toward a digital future.
In many ways, at least according to Tinuiti's 2021 survey, consumer habits appear to remain somewhat the same as before the pandemic. For example - 35% of respondents still reported that they intend to set aside time for Back 2 school so that they can attend this season in person at brick and mortar stores. Another 26% opted for a mixed option of both brick and mortar and e-shopping. The purely online route was planned by 30% of respondents. Both are good news for ready-made retailers - those with a cross-section of product offerings and those with specialized ones.
It's also interesting to see how consumer priorities changed in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. In the Back 2 school season, 68% of respondents considered traditional school supplies to be the main focus. But a full half of respondents equated them with digital technology, and 44% thought similarly about personal protective equipment. Then, for 38%, clothing for school was a key priority.
THREE TARGET GROUPS, THREE MARKETING CHALLENGES
There are many ways to respond to all of this - but how do you choose the one that gives your brand a unique stamp of distinction? First of all, it's important to acknowledge that the Back 2 school market is quite crowded, and the winners of this competition have to be able to win over customers with the most creative and personal audiovisual message. The situation is complicated by one fact - you are not competing for the favour of just one target group. Your advertising campaign should reach both parents and the schoolchildren themselves in equal measure. This awareness can be quite a challenge, as the two groups perceive product presentations diametrically differently, and often look for different qualities. On the other hand, it is the parent who will ultimately be spending the money, so betting on a clearly children's theme is not necessarily an appropriate choice.
However, a frequent message is to offer various special discount offers for these very reasons. It's good to remember that if you are courting the favour of parents who are shopping for multiple children, a favourable price is one of the main factors influencing their decision. In the US, for example, it is quite common for many products offered during the Back 2 school season to be completely tax-free. Other favourable offers, such as cash on delivery waivers or the preparation of exported product packages, can have a similar effect. However, if you want to create a truly effective television commercial, a mere discount shout-out is probably not enough. But in the vast majority of cases, it won't hurt you.
The student population as such is a rather inhomogeneous group in itself. Their needs vary depending on their age - primary and secondary school students will generally shop more at office and school supply stores, while university students will logically invest more in personal electronics, clothing, and even decorations and furniture. The food market, where preferences will also differ substantially, should not be overlooked. A simplified scheme therefore looks like you have at least three specific groups whose attention you want. This is quite a different task from Christmas, when you target everyone.
So what would an ideal Back 2 school ad look like under these conditions? There is no clear-cut answer. But you can get some idea from many examples of good practice. The following few prove that it is definitely not a boring or repetitive discipline.
STAPLES - THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR (1996)
If you have a teacher in your circle of friends, you've probably heard more than one joke about what members of the profession don't have to do with the start of July. The end of the holidays, on the other hand, is the time when the parents themselves have the biggest bonuses. At least, that's the reality served up to television viewers in the late summer of 1996 by an advertising campaign by the American company Staples. The spot plays on the well-worn stereotype that every parent who has had their kids on their hands for two months is eagerly awaiting the moment when they will send them back to school. Which is certainly not an enthusiasm shared by both sides of the barricade.
Staples - The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (1996)
Staples is one of the largest office supply retailers in the US, and arguably globally. Since the products and services Staples offers aren't exactly the stuff of massive Christmas campaigns, the company's marketers decided to make their own Christmas. And they could hardly have picked a better time of year than the one when kids return to their desks after the holidays and many adults find themselves back in their usual office routines.
The styling of the now-legendary ad fits the bill. The musical backing is obviously inspired by classic Christmas jingles, and the usual theme of shopping for "presents" and a celebratory atmosphere is reflected in the narrative. The only difference is that in this case it is mainly notebooks and staplers that play the main role. The advertisement clearly contrasts the childish enthusiasm of the parents with the very irritable attitude of the children. In a somewhat insidious way, it achieves the desired effect - to captivate, entertain and become a legend of its genre. One that a lot of people may disagree with, but certainly no one will get it out of their heads easily.
OLD NAVY - DESK TILL DAWN (2006)
The American clothing brand Old Navy is basically a Back 2 school advertising brand. In this business, we can say with some exaggeration that it is something like John Lewis in pre-Christmas Britain. In short, every year you can count on the brand to deliver a new story, and to add to it the proverbial dose of creativity. Some certainties are simply set in stone.
Video: Old Navy - Desk Till Dawn (2006)
That's also why it's quite hard to pick out one particular example from Old Navy's rich body of work. Nevertheless, all of the company's advertising campaigns are united by their pop culture inspiration and original work with concepts that the company can very skillfully adapt to its own business strategies. This is why the 2006 Desk Till Dawn campaign stands out among them all. The similarity to the title of Robert Rodriguez's legendary action-comedy horror film From Dusk Till Dawn is of course not purely coincidental.
Video: Old Navy - Locker Shocker (2005)
Thus, viewers were treated to a bizarre spectacle that initially capitalizes on typical horror movie clichés. A group of teenagers around a campfire in the woods enjoying the coziness of a late summer night. But the idyll is shattered by unexpected danger - and then it's up to you whether you're more frightened by monsters, serial killers or aggressive and greedy school desks. However, a similar scenario is not unique in Old Navy's work - it is worth remembering at least the commercial parodying Spielberg's famous horror film Jaws, because even in that one you can expect a fairly major plot twist. School is just lurking around the corner.
WALMART - GIRL COLLEGE DORM (2009)
And now something completely different. While convention may seem to dictate that the writers of TV commercials for Back 2 school themes comically play mainly with the themes of childhood bewilderment and feelings of doom that there's a regular routine again, that's certainly not the only emotion this period brings. This was remembered in 2009 by the US supermarket chain Walmart, which came up with a slightly deeper and more sombre presentation of what parents and children experience.
Walmart - Girl College Dorm (2009)
The simple story of the TV commercial is about a mother helping her daughter move into college, and every second literally oozes with feelings that could easily be labeled "empty nest syndrome." A new chapter is literally beginning for both actors - one where they will no longer share their experiences or thoughts with each other every day. Nevertheless, they both view the change in the status quo positively, which is further supported by the fact that they are both dealing with the move together. And Walmart, of course, is an invaluable help.
While this striking ad is, at first glance, tailored mainly to the American reality, where, given the geographical vastness of the country, it is quite common for children to travel thousands of miles from their homes to study, the emotional reality that the spot demonstrates is certainly not exclusive to US residents. It's another way to creatively deal with the issue of going back to school - but in this case, the main ingredient is empathy and the ability to move the viewer.
KLEENEX - SOMEONE NEEDS ONE: TIME TO CHANGE (2015)
Kleenex - a global brand synonymous with the paper napkin and tissue market - commissioned a 2015 public opinion survey of schoolchildren transitioning from primary to secondary school. In doing so, it found that for an overwhelming 91%, the change was a relatively large source of stress. It's because of being late to class, getting lost in the new school, or even getting bad grades. This is compounded by the loss of the security to which they have been accustomed for several years. A new school also means new classmates and a whole new social group to get used to. Two-thirds of schoolchildren are terrified of this - they are not only afraid of not fitting in, but of being rejected and rejected outright by their classmates.
Video: Kleenex - Someone Needs One (2015)
So the company, in collaboration with the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University, prepared a workshop for students to prepare them for these uncomfortable feelings as consistently as possible. At the end of the workshop, participants exchanged Kleenex tissues with encouraging and motivational messages written on them. The footage from this workshop is then actually what the audience sees in the advertisement itself. It is a beautiful example of how going back to school can be taken as a very serious subject. Emotions are at play in this campaign, and they are reflected in the identity of the product and what the gesture of offering a tissue means.
In addition, the campaign later triggered an avalanche on social media. These soon began to fill with stories of real people who had to go through something similar in their lives. Kleenex actually managed to draw attention to a problem that everyone kind of knew existed but no one had ever really addressed in the mainstream. The company thus went well beyond advertising and its own product strategy and offered a unique insight into the psyche of members of the younger generations. A meritorious achievement - and a truly effective one at that.
DELL - THE NEW EXPERTS (2016)
The world has begun to change with the arrival of the new millennium - and in few areas is the acceleration of development as evident as in the technology segment. The last decade in particular has been quite rich in trends in this area. Who is most affected by these shifts? The youngest generations, of course, which means that the education system as a whole must change at the same time as their preferences and collective identity change. And it is precisely these developments in education that marketers of the world's leading brands can then artfully build on. Take the multinational IT giant Dell.
Video: Dell - The New Experts (Taylor Wilson)
Digital is one trend, but the boom in influencing and finding inspirational role models, not just celebrities, is a phenomenon of its own. So Dell didn't rely on the familiar faces of the music, TV and film worlds, but on a selection of unglamorous and all the more believable individuals. Isabella Rose was a 14-year-old fashion designer and acclaimed artist at the time, while 21-year-old Taylor Wilson was already starting a successful career in nuclear physics. Rounding out the foursome were João Pedro Motta, a Brazilian who, at just 19 years old, was in charge of his own tech company, and Jenn McAllister (known as Jennxpenn), who was literally the epitome of what influencing was and how it would change the world of the internet and social media in the years to come. And what do these seemingly completely different personalities have in common? Dell tablets and laptops, of course, plus a bargain two-in-one package at the end of the summer.
GEORGE AT ASDA - ARRIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT (2021) & UNIFORM FOR THE PEOPLE (2022)
The dawn of a whole new Back 2 school format. This was the spirit in which the George At ASDA clothing company's campaign was celebrated in the UK a year ago - and it's no different this year. It's hard to separate the two spots, as the latter wouldn't exist without the former and both follow a similar narrative and creative line. George At ASDA's position in the UK market is also very specific because the brand's entire business stands and falls with the school environment. This is because it is a company that specialises in the manufacture and sale of school uniforms.
George At ASDA - Arrive Like You Mean It (2021)
The UK and its capital, London, is undoubtedly one of the biggest bastions of multiculturalism in Europe. This is a reality that George At ASDA decided not to dispute, but to build the entire creative concept of the advertising campaign around it. The two clips then put a very diverse group of schoolchildren at the forefront, uncompromisingly serving the viewers the truths of their reality and what life as a schoolchild entails in the form of a rap track. Quite predictably, the first campaign became a viral hit in 2021 as soon as it was published, and a similar fate is likely to await its ideological successor for 2022. In fact, its publication only happened a few days ago. This time, the producers have bet on grime, which is extremely popular among Brits, so success is pretty much guaranteed.
George At ASDA - Uniform For The People (2022)
One of George At ASDA's main priorities, though, has always been the emphasis they place on making their uniforms (which are essentially a must-have in Britain that you can't do without) affordable for virtually all schoolchildren across all social groups. Logically, the company does not shy away from commenting on difficult issues such as social inclusion or poverty. Its marketing literally overflows with such messages, and its Uniform For The People campaign is no exception. In fact, George At ASDA wants to respond in its own way to the current economic crisis, where the cost of living is rising enormously. It's not just education, however, which is one area where it shouldn't be so drastic. Which is one of the reasons why now is the time for a bit of togetherness, mutual help and respect. As an added bonus, you get a grime track that you just can't get out of your head and as a result you have no problem with it at all.
The above examples suggest that there are a plethora of ways to take an original take on Back 2 school advertising. If you can manage the execution, the audience will appreciate a comedy as well as a more serious message. And that's actually a good thing - after all, every return to the pews isn't black and white either. Just think of all the nostalgic people you have around you who dream endlessly about how they could easily do a year or two in high school all over again...