4 brilliant back-to-school marketing campaigns for 2015

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In 2014, the average parent with children in grades K-12 spent $669.28 on back-to-school supplies. The total back-to-school spending in 2014 came out to a cool $26.5 billion – for that kind of cash, there’s no reason to wonder why retailers are incentivized to roll out major back-to-school marketing campaigns.

Back-to-school campaign creep is becoming as insidious as Christmas creep. Advertisements begin to run as early as May to efficiently groom back-to-school shoppers (and their children, who reportedly spend $913 million of their own money on school stuff) for the retail rush that will arrive in late summer.

2015 is a big year for the ever-evolving mobile, digital and social media tactics used to pull this avalanche of dollars through retailers’ doors . With 86% of parents looking for the best prices while school shopping and about 82% of consumers looking for sales and coupons before they begin to shop, brands are battling to position themselves as both cool to kids and cost-conscious parents.

And – believe it or not – back-to-school consumers spending is actually expected to go down this year. Consumers are expected to spend a total of $24.9 billion this year, which still offers a lot of leeway for retailers and brands to strut their stuff in their back-to-school campaigns — and they do.

So whose back-to-school campaign really stood out? Here are some of our favorites:


Target is putting its considerable weight behind some interesting new projects this back-to-school season. Not that the retailer has had any trouble getting attentions — from its innovative app real time deal-tracking to their elimination of gender-specific children’s toy aisles, Target has found the spotlight this summer.

But what made their back-to-school campaign stand out? A combination of influencers, dance and infectious music that could rain in parents and kids alike. Dance stars Maddie Ziegler (of Dance Moms fame and a featured performer in a pair of Sia videos), Mace Maya (a 10-year-old breakdancing sensation who recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show) and Kida the Great (another young dancing YouTube sensation) were recruited by Target to get down to up-and-coming singer-songwriter Tori Kelly’s bubbly version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC!”

Everyone loves that song. It strikes some of the best, most nostalgic feelings many of us have about the days of home room and homework. In addition, every free download of Kelly’s cover from Target.com/BackToSchool triggers a donation to the Kids In Need Foundation, which Target will continue until they reach 700,000 downloads – or $3.5 million.

2. Dell

Dell, among other key players, utilized their digital video campaign with a spin: YouTube influencers.

The business teamed up with digital media production company Defy Media and Y&R New York to launch “The New Expert,” a teen-spirited documentary about tech influencers scheduled to air in September 2015. The ad features various young entrepreneurs in fields such as technology, fashion and media, including “professional Internet person” Jenn McAllister, aka Jennxpenn, 21-year-old nuclear physicist Taylor Wilson and 14-year-old fashion designer/artist Isabella Rose.

Although Dell had many creative concepts to market their 2-in-1 laptop/tablet products, the brand had another main goal. From AdWeek:

“Dell wanted to make teens the experts in technology and speak to them in a way that was on their level,” Meredith Kinee, senior copywriter at Y&R New York, stated. “What better way to talk about expertise than to leverage kids that are actually experts in their field?”

Although the campaign is fairly new — the official rollout date is September — it will be very interesting to see how well the campaign performs on TV and social platforms, and how involved the audience gets with a brand that lacks the cool credibility of competitors like Apple.


3. Old Navy.

This year, Old Navy continues to double down on an online strategy for their annual back-to-school campaign.

“The retailer has been shifting its ad dollars away from TV and towards digital video for the past few years, and is currently spending about half as much on TV as it did three years ago,” writes Ashley Rodriguez of Ad Age. “Old Navy does not plan to continue reducing its TV spending significantly, but it will continue to shift funds online.”

The music video, which also reflects the company’s relationship with the Boys & Girls  Club of America, is geared towards kids with its upbeat pop tune and encouraging message.  The hashtag #Unlimted is re-introduced in the music video and on social media, following up on the branding  from last summer’s big viral hit, which scored 5.8 million views on YouTube. The campaign is geared towards  encouraging children to recognize that there are unlimited opportunities, options, and strengths in their future — and you have to like the optimism.


Is it working? Well, the new video, featuring some of the biggest names in YouTube music like Alex Alono, Cimorelli, Jordyn Jones and Josh Levi (don’t know who they are? Your kids do), was launched on Aug.1 and currently had nearly 7 million views. That’s how you go straight to your audience and work the influencer market, people.


4. Candies.

Kohl’s may not be the first name that pops to mind when you think “young, hip brand,” but the retailer is utilizing video and social media to its fullest advantage for its back-to-school campaign for Candie’s.

Sold at Kohl’s nationwide, Kohl’s and Candie’s have partnered with girlpop stars Fifth Harmony as part of their back-to-school multi-media campaign. Fifth Harmony was announced as the new “Candie’s Girls” in June, with each member bringing a unique twist for the brand with back to school tips featured on Candies website and YouTube.

Fifth Harmony saw a spike in search as it received a Google Trend score of 100 in July 2015, shortly after the launch of the campaign and coinciding with the release of their singles “Boss,” “Sledgehammer” and “Worth It.” Kohl’s and Candie’s picked exactly the right time to push Fifth Harmony to the front of their brand, and vice versa. Gotta love it when a plan comes together.


According to PRNewswire, “The campaign launched to overwhelming social success with the hashtag #5HxCandies trending worldwide on Twitter within a few hours of the news breaking, demonstrating the global reach of the partnership. Fifth Harmony, along with Candies, broke the news digitally to their combined 22+ million followers on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook.”




So, what is the irony with all of these great digital campaigns? These retailers’ products are more likely to be purchased in store rather than online.

According to CMO.com, school supplies are most likely to be purchased in-store by 80% of college parents, 74% of college students and 77% of K-12 parent. Interesting that as digital campaigns take ever-greater prominence, there are some times when people still want the shopping experience to take place in a store — like the times when your kids need to pick out, try on and give their stamp of approval to every product you plan to buy for them. No one’s going to the first day of school in the clothes mom and dad picked out.

Need help with your next marketing campaign? Let our experts guide you. Contact us or tweet us @QuinlanCompany.

Ben Kirst contributed to this post.

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