4 Back-to-School Campaigns to Bookmark Now for Your 2019 Planning

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in 2017. We've updated it thoroughly with new 2018 campaigns.

The academic year is finally in full swing school and we’re ready to take stock of the retail brands that helped students (and their families) start off on the right foot. This year, brands began their back-to-school campaigns during the height of summer—and some brands even ran ads before students ended classes. "Consumers are spending a lot more time in their research and purchase-decision phases, and most of that is done online," Laura Carrier, VP-account lead and measurement at MediaMath, told AdAge. Retailers are now ramping up awareness as prime back-to-school season approaches in late July, early August, writes AdAge.

The back-to-school season is big business: it’s second only to the holiday season in sales numbers, and marketers can’t afford to miss out. Though this year’s back-to-school season is over, we found several important lessons for marketers to understand and take advantage of next year.

Executing winning digital marketing campaigns requires a combination of advanced planning and capitalizing on the current climate (including trends and new technologies). We can’t know what social platform or other online medium will be a hit next summer (or what might be on its way out by then), but many of this year’s lessons will still apply next year. Bookmark these examples of stand-out back-to-school campaigns—and the advice we gleaned from each—and you’ll have a jump on next year’s planning:

1. Amazon

Amazon’s 2018 back to school ad, which first aired at the end of July, is short, simple and, most important, smart. In the 15-second advertisement, a teacher begins class with a roll call, but instead of calling out names, he calls out what profession his students aspire to be when they’re older. He calls out “future marine biologist”, to which a student with an ocean notebook proudly raises his hand, “future songwriter”, followed by the enthusiastic hand of a girl with a piano binder and “Captain Laser Cat”, referring to a student wearing a whimsical and unique T-shirt. The ad ends with a slogan stating: “When it’s time for kids to go back to school and chase their dreams, Amazon has everything they need from A to Z”.

 

The advertisement highlights what makes Amazon so popular; that everything and anything you could possibly want is just a click away on the website. The subtlety of the brand’s messaging paired with the overall charm of the commercial’s story makes for one successful marketing campaign. In this ad, Amazon isn’t just saying they have everything you need for back to school, they are saying they have everything you need to chase your dreams.

2. Kleenex

The beginning of school is always hard, but the beginning of middle school is even harder. No one knows this better than Kleenex, whose recent back-to-school ad features a social experiment examining the anxieties and stresses of a group of students before their first day of middle school. The advertisement begins with the kids expressing their worries in their own words, most of which deal with the social anxieties that often arise during this complicated transition. Later during the workshop, the same kids are shown preparing and exchanging packages of Kleenex adorned with supportive messages from their peers. Looks of anxiety and unease turn into smiles, confidence and laughs as the kids receive heartfelt Kleenex packages from their fellow classmates.

 

The powerful story of the commercial is thoughtfully tied with the brand’s messaging and product, and the result is a relatable and authentic marketing campaign. Supported by the company’s #ShareKleenexCare hashtag, the campaign gained positive online attention for making the bold attempt to connect emotionally with their customers, a trend that is becoming increasingly important for brands in 2018. The ad ends by presenting data collected by Kleenex, stating that 77% of kids felt more confident and less alone after creating and sharing Kleenex care packs.

3. Staples

This Staples back-to-school tweet hits all the right notes: it’s interactive, on-message, and contains a money-saving deal:

By asking their audience to spot the differences in two backpacks stuffed to the gills with necessary school supplies, Staples is focusing on the back-to-school shopping lists parents make—sharpies, check! Notebooks, check! Following the link within the tweet brings users to Staples’ online Back to School center, which is neatly organized by grade and conveniently helps shoppers down the path to purchase.

Video content may be the king of online marketing these days but don’t forget the power of a clear, smartly designed image as you think about back-to-school 2018.

4. Whole Foods

This year, Whole Foods ran hard with their “back-to-school lunch idea” ad campaign: the health-food store promoted lunch ideas for busy parents on television and Twitter, highlighted UGC on Instagram, and featured partnerships with like-minded brands:

Not only does their food take center stage (including their pre-packaged fresh-made foods), but Whole Foods’ selection of adorable backpacks, water bottles, and food storage containers are also often prominently featured in many of the ads.

Whole Foods’ back-to-school lunch ideas campaign demonstrates that deals aren’t the only way to earn customers: offering your audience valuable content is an effective strategy, too—a lesson that’s sure to last all the way to back-to-school 2018.

Back-to-school season is not one retail marketers want to miscalculate, so take note of what worked well for your brand this year, and we hope you found some inspiration for next year in these stand-out ad campaigns. Finally, keep in mind that many of the above lessons are applicable for holiday marketing campaign planning, too.

September 13, 2018
5 Reasons Busy Marketers Should Aim to be Bored
September 24, 2018
Here’s How Social Allows Your Brand to be Both Local and Global
Jaime Netzer is Spredfast's Senior Content Marketing Manager, leading content operations. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly and reads constantly.