Making the Grade: This Year’s Best Back-to-School Campaigns


Back-to-school advertising has, until recently, been a little old school. Previous years’ campaigns were dominated by print and TV approaches, but this year brands like Dell, Target and J.C. Penney embraced Instagram and YouTube to better target 13-24 year-old back-to-school shoppers and millennial parents. With new investments in digital, this year’s back-to-school campaigns were more successful than ever before.

As flash-deal sites and online shopping continue to boom, back-to-school is becoming less of an “event” each year, making it increasingly difficult for brands to bank on a successful third quarter. Brands looking to stay ahead of the curve need to continuously evolve, based on where their target audiences are engaging.

By embracing the following strategies, brands can remain competitive and continue to reach back-to-school audiences through engaging, effective and inspiring campaigns.

A computer is a back-to-school necessity, and this year Dell hit its stride with a docuseries featuring teenagers using Dell computers for inspiring projects. The four 90-second spots feature “young achievers” in science, technology and math, targeting teen shoppers with aspirational videos. No longer just a tactical tool to finish that dreaded essay, the computer opens students’ worlds to ambitious, inspired projects in line with their personal passions. Moreover, featuring real teens and inspiring stories helps Dell connect with teenage shoppers, who are notoriously skeptical of traditional ads. The takeaway for other brands? Connect with your audience on their level and think beyond what the product is to what it can help your audience achieve.

Target took a two-pronged approach this year, recognizing that back-to-school season can be stressful for parents and the power of leveraging social media influencers to reach students. This year, the retail giant debuted its online shopping tool “School List Assist,” which provides a curated list of back-to-school “must haves.” Parents had the option to order from the list online for home delivery or in-store pickup, helping bridge the gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping. The online tool streamlines the shopping process and establishes Target as a one-stop shop for stress-free shopping, making it easy for parents to capitalize on deals and get what they need with just one click.

Target also recognized the power of social media influencers in reaching teenage shoppers, tapping Maddie Ziegler (“Dance Moms”) and EvanTubeHD (YouTube star) to show students that Target has the styles they crave. Ziegler starred in a spot running on TV and online, performing in Target’s “stretchiest denim” alongside other young dancers. Evan, who has a YouTube series about toys and gaming, also wore Target’s trendiest back-to-school styles. In addition to the video series, the stars promoted the campaigns on their social pages. Addressing the stress of the back-to-school season with its simple curated shopping list, Target established itself as a major player, while also reaching students with well-executed influencer campaigns on social media. Brands looking to successfully boost back-to-school sales need to engage parents and students through relevant online campaigns.

J.C. Penney admittedly hasn’t always been a pioneer in digital advertising, but this year, the retailer got back-to-school ads right with a Twitter campaign and accompanying Tumblr campaign that encouraged students to compliment each other’s back-to-school style. Declaring August 12, “National Shout-Out Day,” the retailer encouraged kids and teens to post compliments to their peers. In tandem, the retailer also gave its own shout-outs to teens tweeting about personal style, using the #ShoutOutDay hashtag. J.C. Penney also offered digital “compliment cards” on its Tumblr page, allowing teens to compliment friends who post selfies in back-to-school gear. By encouraging students to compliment each other’s style, the retailer evoked a positive back-to-school spirit that successfully resonated with their target audiences.

As brands look to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded back-to-school season, connecting with students and millennial parents online will be critical. These days, students and millennial parents just aren’t watching traditional TV or reading print at the same rates they used to – they’re online consuming digital content. Social and digital also allow highly targeted advertising campaigns that can reach a narrower, more focused audience than TV and print can promise.

For brands looking to successfully leverage back-to-school, digital is no longer an option – it’s an imperative. And J.C. Penney, Target and Dell deserve an A+ for their successful advertising efforts this year.

[By Selina Petosa] [Read More] [Image from Aspyn Ovard]

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