Back-to-School Ads: Which Ones Made the Grade?

September 6, 2013 Courtney Bosch

Much like the silly tune Adam Sandler chants in the comedy movie “Billy Madison,” retailers are doing a song and dance as youngsters near and far head back to school. Their hope is that if they lead, we consumers will follow… straight to the checkout lines.

Back to school has become a holiday in and of itself. Many parents would argue it’s the best day of the year. (Heck, I know I would!) It seems as if retailers agree. Like many other nationwide events, holidays, and seasons, the annual pilgrimage back to books, teachers, lockers, and desks has turned into yet another reason for consumers (in this case, parents or guardians) to shop! Judging by the barrage of commercials inundating us, back-to-school advertisements have become much like holiday shopping ads, beginning just a bit earlier in the season each year, and becoming more and more competitive.

Retail Roundup

In observing this year’s back to school ads, I noticed that many retailers took a fun approach while others, like Kmart, which caught some flak for using “yo mama” jokes among other things in their ads, went with what could be considered a more edgy slant. Burlington Coat Factory went the cutesy route with children giving themselves pep talks in the mirror about how this year things will be different. Target stuck with continuity, using a familiar campaign and simply building on it.

Let’s Look at Target

The overarching theme of the Target ads continued to be “school takes a lot,” implying that the least of a child’s worries should be clothes and supplies when there is so much else to deal with in school. The message here is that Target will ease those worries with all that its store has to offer.

Last year, the Target ads featured teachers reciting their classroom requirements in song. As is often the case in advertising, people either loved or hated them. This year, Target’s back to school campaign infused classic songs that parents would be familiar with, subliminally playing them in the background, as the kids in each ad found themselves dealing with various scenarios one would encounter in school.

Influence the Decision-Maker

What I like is that Target has kept the same campaign and simply expanded/improved/insert your own opinion here upon it. One noticeable difference is that this year’s ads shift the focus to the kids. Let’s face it… The kids really are the target (no pun intended) market here.

Yes, parents control the funds and buying power for the wee lads and lasses, and they are the ultimate decision-makers in the household. However, appealing to the children is never a bad thing. In this case, it’s incredibly smart. After all, they have tremendous influence over the parental purchases. (Flashback to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Jingle All the Way” on that relentless quest to find the one toy his son wanted more than anything in the world for Christmas.) The point is that kids know what they want, and thanks to back-to school campaigns akin to the holiday season, they know exactly how and where to get it.

Going back to school is tough. Aside from the new wardrobe and all the necessary school supplies required by the teachers, it marks the start of new experiences with teachers and fellow students. And the first day of school is often incredibly stressful for many kids. Retailers seemed to recognize this and clearly address it in their advertising. In the ads where the child/children were the heroes, they overcame some fear or obstacle to accomplish the task at hand. All with a little help from various retailers, of course!

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