The Best Back-to-School Campaigns from 2017: Getting Students Excited and Boosting Sales

June 20, 2018 Carrie Burton

As summer rolls in and students go off to camp, brands are working to release their back-to-school campaigns. Last year, the back-to-school season raked in nearly $30 billion in revenue, so this market is important to capitalize on.

Plus, nearly 50% of eligible consumers purchase back-to-school supplies one month before classes begin, so brands need to launch their campaigns at just the right time for the largest possible revenue.

Many brands jump to the head of the class to connect with and excite parents, teachers and kids while boosting sales. See what your brand can learn from the top 10 back to school campaigns from last year.

10. Bed Bath & Beyond: Starter Packs: When you just can’t even, we can help.

Bed Bath & Beyond adapted the “starter pack” social media meme and carefully crafted it into a marketing ploy. With popular college activities like napping and studying in mind, Bed Bath & Beyond expertly targeted 18- to 22-year-olds, arranging bundles that include blankets, pillows and eye masks for power naps, and starter packs with lamps, coffee and eye drops are available for study nights. Bed Bath & Beyond offers six different starter packs: I-Need-A-Nap, Master Crammer, Doin’-the-Laundry, Anti-Freshmen 15, I-Miss-My-Fam and Super Planner. Bed Bath & Beyond has college life covered, all thanks to a meme.

9. Staples: Back to School Spot the Difference

Staples used social media to engage 320,000 followers during their 2017 back-to-school campaign. In a single tweet, the well-known office and school supply brand encouraged followers to spot the seven differences in their nearly identical pictures of backpacks. Staples was able to initiate positive interaction with consumers by starting a conversation through Twitter. With this type of social media engagement, it’s no wonder they’re successful in the back-to-school season, rounding out 2017 with $20 million in revenue.

8. Ikea: SuperFruit

Back to school goes beyond the books. Furniture manufacturer Ikea enlisted the help of YouTube influencers Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, the duo known as Superfruit, to promote their college supplies. Showcasing bedding, lamps, desk organizers and more, Ikea’s video lives out Mitch’s dream of rooming with Scott in college. From Mitch’s urban minimalism to Scott’s playful pastels, the two personalities display all of the options and products Ikea offers for college students. The interactive video allows consumers to choose between the two students’ styles while deciding on activities for Mitch and Scott to do, like playing a prank or cleaning up.

7. Marks & Spencer: Back to School #SpendItWell

The higher-end market also competes for consumer attention during the back to school season. Marks & Spencer, a luxury, British retailer, produced a 2017 back-to -school video that follows a boy on his walk to school. With voiceover listing things he can’t promise his parents, like punctuality or popularity, the young student finally proclaims: I’ve got this. Reminding us that life is “just something we grow into,” Marks & Spencer helps students be well prepared for the new school year.

6. Old Navy: Back-to-School Breakdown

Music, dancing, clothes. It’s back to school for Old Navy. In their 2017 TV spots, Old Navy perfectly captured the motivation needed to persevere through difficult challenges. Of course, the kids are outfitted in Old Navy’s latest fashions, proving the brand has plenty of new styles for the upcoming school year. With a bright, poppy ad that evokes a music-video feel, perhaps it’s creativity that drove Old Navy’s Q3 2017 sales helped them beat revenue predictions and increase their stock price by 7%.

5. Target: Back to School: Study Haul

Target TV spots win the most back-to-school eyeballs every year, and last year, the brand upped its advertising spending to $251 million, a 12% increase from 2015.  Target’s 2107 30-second TV spot uses bright colors to showcase exciting designs the brand offers on school supplies. With over 1 million views on YouTube, this ad was popular with consumers. Target saw traffic grow 1.4% in Q3 of 2017, back to school time.

4. Walmart: Own the School Year Like a Hero

Walmart released their 2017 back to school video titled, “Own the School Year Like a Hero.” The brand tapped into the power of the superhero genre with inspirational messaging and relatable video content. The release of this 30-second spot may have contributed to the rise of Walmart’s sales by 2.7% in Q3 2017.

3. GAP Kids: Back to School — Mantra

GAP Kids released a series of back to school videos last year with the message, “go back to school and forward with confidence,” as they visited different classrooms from around the United States, one of which was teacher Jasmyn Wright’s third grade class in Philadelphia, PA. In the 15-second spot featured below, the brand tapped into the social movement of empowering young people by showcasing Ms. Wright’s way of encouraging students to find their self-confidence and strength. This video, entitled “Mantra,” grew in popularity, reaching more than half a million views on YouTube alone. While GAP has been struggling recently, they saw an increase in revenue in Q3 2017, around the back to school sales time.

2. Converse: First Day Feels

The first day of school brings about an array of emotions for most students. From panic to excitement, Converse captures them all in their back to school marketing video featuring Millie Bobby Brown, child star from popular Netflix show Stranger Things. Converse even converted this video to dozens of GIFs, which they posted on their Instagram account. Using a beloved actor was an effective way for Converse to connect with their 7.1 million Instagram followers and fans worldwide.

1. HP: Little Moments

HP pulled at consumers’ heart strings releasing a sentimental back-to-school campaign for 2017. Focusing on the thankless parent, HP produced a powerful marketing video without putting their product center-stage. Instead, the brand honed in on how their product fits into regular lives. HP experienced incredible gains in 2017, an increase of 7% year-over-year despite declining PC sales in the marketplace.

Back-to-school campaigns can be successful on social media or TV, with serious tones or punch lines, as long as your brand connects with your audience. Because the season’s consumer spend has steadily increased over the past few years, your brand will want to produce a powerful campaign. So consider partnering with influencers and portraying how your products fit into students’ lives.

Looking for more back-to-school campaign inspiration? Take a look at last year’s best of article.

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About the Author

Carrie Burton

Carrie Burton is the VP Media, Education of Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest growing independent agency focused on performance marketing. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into a full-service performance marketing company that services firms within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, automotive, jobs and careers. DMS has achieved incredible year-over-year growth, which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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