Best Back to School Campaigns: The 26 Best Retailers Who Made the Grade

Back to school campaign ideas

The Back to School season is always an attractive opportunity for retailers to gain a foothold ahead of the holiday season and get inspired by the best Back to School campaign examples. In fact, this shopping season is second only to Black Friday as America’s largest retail event. For 2022, the National Retail Federation predicted that K-12 back-to-school spending would reach $36.9 billion, surpassing the previous record of $30.3 billion set back in 2012.

As you consider how to achieve meaningful ROAS (Return on Advertising Spend) this season, draw inspiration from these creative Back-to-School campaign ideas from the past.

Table of Contents

Back to School Consumer Spending

Throughout the back-to-school season, we always learn a lesson: consumers are prepared to spend. Parents invest time and money in back-to-school shopping, including books, supplies, clothes, electronics, and even furniture for college dorm rooms. These needs are always increasing. So, what about consumer spending Year over Year? Let’s dive in.

According to an article by MNTN Research for YoY Consumer purchasing behaviors, planned BTS expenditure decreased in 2022 compared to 2021.

A similar decrease was observed in 2019, a period when parents faced uncertain times. The pandemic caused many to reassess priorities. Back then, many businesses were concerned that the pandemic might adversely affect e-commerce. Deloitte made a similar prediction, expecting the pandemic to shift the focus of back-to-school spending.

CNBC covered how the coronavirus pandemic and classroom closures affected the shopping season.

According to back-to-school statistics provided by the NRF, the total expected spending was $26.2 billion in 2019, $33.9 billion in 2020, and $37.1 billion in 2021. These numbers reflect increased spending by families adapting to the changes in learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Back to School Insightful Statistics [2023]

  • 80% of consumers expect to see higher prices in back-to-school shopping this year, with increased costs mainly in clothing and accessories retailers (2023) – NRF Source

  • 77% of Gen Z individuals, 76% of Millennials, and 74% of Gen X are planning to shop in this shopping B2S period. (2023) – Business Wire Source

  • Back-to-school shoppers anticipate spending $380 per child, representing a 20% increase compared to the previous year – KPMG Source

  • In 2022, 35% of shoppers utilized social media for their back-to-school shopping, compared to 41% in 2021. – Deloitte Source

  • 89% of parents seize the opportunity to shop for school items during these major sales. Cision Source

What is back to school campaign?

A back-to-school campaign is a “golden opportunity” for brands to connect with customers during the annual shopping season. It’s a symphony of creative back-to-school ads, promotions, content, and an overall strategy that showcases your brand values, addressing the challenges and unique needs of your audience. It’s the perfect time to demonstrate how your products or services can fulfill their requirements.

So, let’s explore some of the best examples that can inspire your own successful Back to School Campaign for 2023.

The 26 Best Back to School Campaigns Ever in Retail

Back to School Campaign #1: Walmart Canada – Let’s Get it (2019)

Type of Campaign: Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • Walmart has a knack for reaching the perfect audience: parents. As the school year approaches, parents turn to the Walmart app to effortlessly purchase all the essential school supplies for their kids. And when their workday is done, they swing by the store to conveniently pick up their items. It’s a win-win situation, allowing parents to maintain a stable work-life balance while giving their children the star treatment they deserve.
  • Adding to the charm of the back to school campaign, the catchy song chosen as the soundtrack is an absolute delight. We can’t help but love it.

Back to School Campaign #2: Bullseye University – Reality Show (2010)

Type of Campaign: Digital Campaign, Outdoor

Why We Liked It:

  • One of the most ingenious Back to School campaign examples we’ve come across! College can be both exciting and daunting, but Target retailer had the perfect solution. Teaming up with Bullseye University, they crafted an immersive and digital experience that gave college students a taste of campus life.
  • The campaign brilliantly tapped into the influencer culture by enlisting five YouTube Stars to live-stream their own beautifully decorated dorm rooms for four days.
  • The results were astounding: Target’s online sales soared by 37% compared to the previous year.

Back to School Campaign #3: American Eagle’s – Clothing line (2020)

Type of Campaign: Digital Campaign, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • American Eagle’s Back to School campaign examples was a hit among teens, capturing their attention with a “kiss” of excitement. The brand hopped on the bandwagon, crafting a campaign that celebrated the self-expression of youth culture and drew inspiration from the TikTok phenomenon. By tapping into the virtual world where young people connect through dance and shared passions, AE brilliantly met the desires of this generation. 
  • They cleverly embraced social distancing, mirroring the engaging content found on TikTok and incorporating unique transitions that resonated with their socially connected community. Fairly recognized as one of the top back to school social media campaigns.⭐ 

Back to School Campaign #4: M&S – Spend It Well (2017)

Type of Campaign: Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • Tired of the same old Back to School advertising? Well, Marks and Spencer is here to break the mold. With the line “I’ve got this,” Marks & Spencer’s 2017 back to school commercial sends a powerful message to all kids – and maybe even adults. The brand not only encourages people to keep moving forward no matter what life throws at them, but actively promotes it. Their captivating campaign instills confidence in kids facing the upcoming weeks with their top-notch products like trousers and shoes. The emotional journey they create truly makes our time well-spent.
  • The validation of catchy back-to-school campaign slogans and hashtags comes when you share them with friends. #SpendItWell is an example that we shared.

Back to School Campaign #5: Coca Cola – Friendly Twist (2015)

Type of Campaign: Digital Campaign, Outdoor

Why We Liked It:

  • College freshman? The awkwardness, the tension, and the silence on the first day. But Coca-Cola had a stroke of genius with their Ice-Breaker move. They created a unique soda bottle cap designed to spark connections among college students. It’s no surprise that students love it, and the video ad has garnered over 9 million views.
  • +1 point for the catchy and memorable back to school campaign name Friendly Twist.
  • It’s no wonder why Coca-Cola’s revenue keeps soaring. In fact, their estimated revenue for the twelve months ending March 31, 2023, marking an impressive 8.39% year-over-year increase.

Back to School Campaign #6: Amazon Prime – Day

Type of Campaign: Social Media, Television, Email, Print

Amazon Back to School Sale
Image source: NewsletterMonitor

Why We Liked It:

  • By launching Back to School on the wildly popular Amazon Prime Day, Amazon could grab the attention of buyers sooner.
  • The campaign was highly targeted, aiming shoppers who have expressed interest in computers, office supplies as the more likely consumer for B2S offers.
  • Amazon, with its vast multi-channel catalog, expanded the breadth of typical B2S target purchases, stretching into beauty, grooming, wellness, household appliances, and more.
  • In addition to its core messaging, the retailer reframed their B2S approach as a great time for everyone in the family to reset and get back into healthy routines they abandoned over the summer.

Back to School Campaign #7: JCPenney – Back to You (2019)

Type of Campaign: YouTube, Social Media, Print 

Why We Liked It:

  • The multitargeted “Back to You” campaign was aimed at both students and teachers but had a message that was sure to draw in parents. Real-life teachers talking about their local schools and cities added authenticity that both parents and teachers loved.
  • JCPenney took a smart, omnichannel approach for this campaign, a well-timed move given the retailer’s financial struggles as a legacy brand that seems “old-fashioned” to younger segments. The retailer pushed their Back to You campaign on all their social channels, through email and targeted digital ads.

Back to School Campaign #8: Staples – Time of the Year (1996)

Type of Campaign: Television and Print

Why We Liked It:

  • How were back to school advertising ideas back then? Staples gives us a taste. The 1996 Staples B2S campaign is a classic. In the ad spot, parents danced in the store’s aisles singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as their kids trudged unhappily behind them. The concept was clever and catchy.
  • Staples knows a good thing when they have it. The office retailer has created at least five variations on this theme since it first aired, and each time, it has felt fresh and funny.

Back to School Campaign #9: Gap – Gap to School (2019)

Type of Campaign: Television

Why We Liked It:

  • The 2019 Gap Back to School campaign example came hot on the heels of the retailer’s 2018 controversy. Parents did not respond well to ads that seemed to play into gender stereotypes. Gap tried to undo some of the damage with this inclusive, omnichannel 2019 B2S #GaptoSchool campaign, featuring empowered, capable young musicians.

Back to School Campaign #10: Nike – Best 1st Day (2017)

Type of Campaign: Television, Social Media, Print

Back to School Nike

Why We Liked It:

  • #Best1stDay multi-platform social campaign followed seven social media influencers excited about going back to school. As a legacy brand, Nike runs the risk of losing its edge, but #Best1stDay made it clear that the company has a forward-facing mindset and still knows how to motivate and inspire today’s youth.
  • Nike made it a point to take an inclusive approach, another signal that the sports apparel giant understands the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history, Gen Z. Inclusion isn’t just a desirable goal among this demographic – it’s an expectation.

Back to School Campaign #11: H&M (2016)

Type of Campaign: Television, Social Media

Why We Liked It:

  • First of all, the casting was on point. Good call putting together such an adorably fierce, diverse collection of high-energy kids decked out in H&M.
  • H&M is popular partly because their style is just edgy enough to please the kids, but still appealing to parents. They are also known for their very low price points, and this ad makes it clear that while these clothes are affordable, they’re still what all the kids will want to wear this year at school. We are looking for back-to-school content ideas like this one. 10/10.

Back to School Campaign #12: Walmart – Big Day Back (2018)

Type of Campaign: Television

Why We Liked It:

  • One of the bigger back-to-school advertising ideas, quite literally. Unique, fun, and creative, this tv spot for the “Big Day Back” campaign showcased Walmart’s Back to School offerings in a literally big way. It was also the perfect vehicle for the brand’s “Go Back Big” slogan.

Back to School Campaign #13: Old Navy – Unlimited (2014)

Type of Campaign: Television, Print, Social Media

Why We Liked It:

  • It wasn’t just us — everyone liked Old Navy’s 2014 viral “Unlimited” spot. Within a week of its first play, the video captured almost 3 million viewers.
  • The online-only 4-minute mini-musical featured a middle school girl singing her way through her first day of school. The song was available on iTunes. Old Navy hit precisely the right tone to capture the Gen Z attention span. 

Tommy Hilfiger Banner

Back to School Campaign #14: Ikea ALL INTERACTIONS (2017)

Type of Campaign: Snapchat, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • The interactive, college-focused 2017 Ikea Back to School campaign was a partnership with Snapchat. Adding a couple of mega influencers made this approach a guaranteed win, and a safe bet for Back 2 School ideas that target college people.
  • Ikea’s Snapchat was already quite popular, so this campaign felt very natural as a way to enhance the customer experience. 

Back to School Campaign #15: Tesco – Mommy bloggers (2018)

Type of Campaign: Social Media

Back to School Tesco

Why We Liked It:

  • International grocer Tesco partnered with “mommy bloggers” to create detailed, authentic content about Tesco’s school uniform offerings, mom to mom. Blog entries like this one show just how engaging this medium can be — check out all the comments below the post.
  • The whole concept of Tesco offering school uniforms so parents can grab their groceries and take care of school clothes in one trip was already smart. Having bloggers craft storytelling around the idea is brilliant.

Back to School Campaign #16: Officeworks – (2018)

Type of Campaign: Print, Television

Why We Liked It:

  • Australian office supply chain Officeworks is laser-focused. The brand targets its omnichannel efforts to parents facing seasonal expenses and business.
  • Officeworks uses relatable actors who feel authentic. It’s a variation on the “mom to mom” approach used by Tesco, as outlined above. A genuine example of best Back to School ads that speaks to a mom’s heart.

Back to School Campaign 17: Gucci – In the style of Wes Anderson (2016)

Type of Campaign: Print, Social Media

Why We Liked It:

  • Gucci is not the first brand consumers think of when they hear “back to school,” and the brand embraced this outsider status for its 2016 campaign. The imagery was lush and visually striking with a kind of Wes Anderson flair.
  • Gucci didn’t attempt to grab market share with a discount line or approachable feel that might have appealed to bargain-conscious consumers. The brand aimed squarely at the demographic that can afford to send the kids wearing a designer label. The result was a back to school campaign that felt whimsical yet quintessentially Gucci.

Back to School Campaign Example #18: Adidas – Start Fresh (2015)

Type of Campaign: Television, Social Media, Print

Back to School Adidas

Why We Liked It:

  • Adidas has always been about star power, and this campaign was no exception. The brand partnered with Foot Locker to bring in NBA stars and Jimmy Kimmel.
  • The “Start Fresh” campaign slogan struck the right tone – modern without feeling forced, a sure way to turn off younger consumers. 

Back to School Campaign #19: Apple – Gift cards

Type of Campaign: Television, Print, Social Media

Back to School Apple

Why We Liked It:

  • Apple has been running back to school gifts with purchase promos for several years in a row (gift cards or devices like this year’s AirPod gift with purchase). This long-game approach is working. Ahead of each B2S season, Apple fans, always an impressive CLV example, speculate about what kind of freebie the brand will offer this year.

Back to School Campaign #20: Macy – All Brand New Challenge (2019)

Type of Campaign: Social Media, Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • The “All Brand New Challenge” from Macy’s for the, well-liked by American teenagers, Tik Tok app. Mobile users are urged to shoot videos as part of the challenge in order to share their school-style inspiration with others.
  • Macy offered a chance to generate direct sales from fans who want to buy the appearance of the characters from the adolescent drama “The Dead Girls Detective Agency” by allowing viewers to make purchases immediately within the Snapchat app.
  • By matching their apparel and accessories with the Danger Twins song “All Brand New,” Macy’s 2019 back to school advertising campaign taps into the thrill of a new beginning.

Back to School Campaign #21: Kellogg’s – B2S

Type of Campaign: Social Media, Print, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • The short clip, which lasts 30 seconds, begins with an animation sequence and the youngster exclaiming with excitement, “Well, that was the longest break ever!”. We definitely loved it!
  • To ensure safety throughout the shoot and to give the story a realistic feel as they prepare for the school reopening in early September, Kellogg’s cast a real parent and son in the spot. This was the brand’s attempt to reach out to other parents around the country with a creative back to school campaign.

Back to School Campaign Example #22: Gymboree – One Big Happy (2016)

Type of Campaign: Social Media, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • The renowned retailer honors the best of childhood by offering a one-stop shop for the #OneBigHappy school year. Everyone adored the commercial featuring the joyful and cheerful children. Agreed, back to school content ideas need to evoke happiness.

Back to School Campaign #23: Miami University – TV Commercial (2011)

Type of Campaign: Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • One of the oldest, yet most inspirational back-to-school advertising ideas,” captures the essence of the moment when a professor utters words that unlock a realm of incredible ideas or when a service project unfolds, revealing the profound impact volunteering can have on a community. Touched by the soul of a college freshman and inspired by the need for inspirational moments.

Back to School Campaign #24: George – Arrive like you mean it (2021)

Type of Campaign: Social Media, Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • The kids are seen rapping to a 30-second single, created and produced by Impero and Producer KZ, full of confidence, reunited with their squads, and eager to demonstrate their newly acquired talents. Everybody loved those little heroes!
  • Asda demonstrates how that first day of school represents much more than just the beginning of a new year. Many parents regard it as the rosy beginning of our post-covid existence, when they prioritize their children’s self-assurance, personality, and sense of identity over academic excellence, athletic prowess, and other traditional school activities.

Back to School Campaign #25: Kleenex (2018)

Type of Campaign: Television, YouTube

Why We Liked It:

  • We definitely enjoyed the realistic perspective of this Kleenex back-to-school advertisement. The children create a creative “domino game” with the goal of showcasing that Kleenex hand tissues are truly effective in keeping kids’ hands clean, as they are thicker and more absorbent. This bite-sized commercial effectively demonstrates how tissues can provide real protection for children’s school life. This is exactly what parents wish for.

Back to School Campaign #26: Dick’s Sporting Goods – Welcome Back

Why We Liked It:

  • This is a compelling new-age TikTok ad campaign. TikTok ads are shaping the future, and Dick’s Sporting Goods has always been in tune with young audiences. That’s why the retail company partnered with top Gen Z TikTok influencers to showcase its fresh back-to-school looks ahead of the new academic year. This appealing advertising on TikTok featured stars like Jean-Victor Mackie, a dancer with over 6.3 million followers, lifestyle blogger Nicole Laeno, and viral musician and beatmaker Ricky Desktop.

  • For an ad to be considered one of the best TikTok ads, it’s crucial to stay faithful to the TikTok format. The campaign includes a 15-second spot, a 30-second spot, and an additional 15-second spot featuring original beats by Ricky Desktop.

Extra Insights

  • While the new kid on the block cannot yet match Facebook’s advertising revenues, TikTok reached $2.1 billion in the U.S. in 2021 according to statista.

  • Speaking of TikTok campaigns, it’s worth mentioning the #BeCyberSmart: Back to School tips that the platform launched last year to educate its young users about cybersecurity.

As we enter the back-to-school season, the nostalgia of these campaigns may evoke a sense of fond memories for many; however, for retailers, this period signifies a bustling time with significant changes, making our comprehensive article on back to school campaign tips and back to school marketing ideas for retailers a valuable resource to explore.

Innovative Back to school Campaign Ideas per industry

  • Footwear Retailers: Launch bundles of kids’ shoes + socks + backpacks.
  • Stationery Retailers: Offer custom notebooks with personalized name engravings.
  • Electronics Retailers: Provide student discounts on tablets and laptops essential for e-learning.
  • Apparel Retailer: Introduce a ‘Mix and Match’ clothing line for school uniforms.
  • Health and Wellness Retailers: Promote lunchbox sets with reusable water bottles and eco-friendly packaging.
  • Sporting Goods Retailers: Highlight a package of gym essentials including sportswear, shoes, and equipment.
  • Arts and Crafts Retailers: Create themed art kits featuring coloring books, pencils, and other craft supplies.
  • Furniture Retailers: Showcase study-friendly furniture sets including a desk, chair, and lamp.
  • Eyewear Retailers: Offer a ‘Buy One, Get One’ promotion for children’s eyeglasses.
  • Books and Educational Tools Retailers: Provide curated reading lists with bundled book packages by grade level.
  • Nutrition and Snacks Retailers: Introduce school snack packs featuring healthy and allergen-free options.
  • Music and Instruments Retailers: Offer a starter pack with beginner instruments and instructional books.
  • Travel and Bags Retailers: Showcase backpacks with matching lunch boxes and water bottles.
  • Beauty and Personal Care Retailers: Launch teen skincare starter kits for the new school year.
  • Sustainable Products Retailers: Feature eco-friendly school supplies with a percentage of proceeds supporting environmental causes.
  • Automotive Retailers: Promote car accessories for college students, such as organizers and tech gadgets.
  • Home and Garden Retailers: Highlight dorm room essentials like bedding sets and decorative plants.
  • Subscription Boxes Retailers: Offer a monthly subscription for ongoing school supplies.
  • Pet Care Retailers: Create a ‘Back to School’ package for pets, including toys and treats for when kids are away.
  • Parenting Resources Retailers: Provide an educational seminar or online resources to help parents prepare for the school year.

Back to School taglines

  • Gear Up for Greatness: Back to School Essentials!”
  • Start Fresh, Shop Smart: Your Back-to-School Destination.”
  • New Year, New Gear: Find Your School Style Here!”
  • Back to School, Back to Savings: Shop Today!”
  • Learn in Style: Fashion for the School Year Ahead.”
  • Your One-Stop School Shop: Get Ready for the Classroom!”
  • “A+ Deals on Back-to-School Supplies!”
  • From Pencils to Backpacks: We’ve Got You Covered!”
  • Be Cool for School: Shop the Latest Trends Now!”
  • Set for Success: Equip Your Learning Adventure Here.”
  • Study in Style: Everything You Need for the School Year!”
  • Learning Made Fun: Creative Supplies for Every Age!”
  • Head of the Class: Best Deals on Back-to-School Gear.”
  • School’s in Session: Get Ready with Us!”
  • Education Essentials: Quality Supplies for Every Subject!”

Back to School promotion mistakes to avoid

  • Ignoring Mobile Shoppers: Not optimizing promotions for mobile devices.
  • Overlooking the Online Market: Neglecting to offer online sales and promotions.
  • Late Campaign Launch: Starting the promotion too close to the school start date.
  • Unclear Messaging: Using vague or confusing promotional language.
  • Lack of Inventory Management: Running out of stock on promoted items.
  • Ignoring Different Age Groups: Not providing offers for different school levels (elementary, middle, high school, college).
  • Poor Website Navigation: Making it difficult for customers to find promotional items on the website.
  • Inadequate Staffing: Not having enough staff to handle the increase in in-store or online traffic.
  • Neglecting Social Media: Failing to promote deals on various social media channels.
  • Ignoring Local Market Needs: Not customizing promotions to cater to local schools’ specific needs and schedules.
  • Overcomplicating Promotions: Creating too many confusing deals or bundles.
  • Failure to Analyze Competitors: Not considering or matching competitors’ promotions and pricing.
  • Lack of Personalized Marketing: Not using customer data to provide targeted and relevant offers.
  • Poor Follow-Up Strategy: Failing to engage customers after the initial purchase to encourage loyalty and repeat business.
  • Insufficient Preparation for Returns: Not having a clear and easy return policy for back-to-school products.

Back to school Advertising Best Practices

  • Target Relevant Keywords: Focus on keywords related to back-to-school supplies and trends, and ensure they align with your products.
  • Utilize Ad Extensions: Incorporate site link, callout, and structured snippet extensions to enhance your ads’ visibility and provide more information.
  • Optimize for Mobile Devices: Create mobile-friendly ads to reach students and parents browsing on smartphones and tablets.
  • Use Retargeting Techniques: Implement retargeting to engage users who have previously visited your site but didn’t make a purchase.
  • Offer Time-Sensitive Deals: Create a sense of urgency with limited-time offers and countdown timers in your ads.
  • Leverage Local Targeting: Customize ads for specific locations to cater to local school needs and schedules.
  • Analyze Competitor Ads: Monitor competitor strategies and pricing to position your ads effectively.
  • Utilize Google Shopping Ads: Showcase your products directly with Google Shopping Ads for better visual appeal.
  • Segment Your Audience: Target ads based on factors like age, interests, and purchasing behavior to increase relevance.
  • A/B Test Ad Variations: Test different ad copies, headlines, and images to find what resonates best with your audience.
  • Incorporate User Reviews: Highlight positive customer reviews and ratings to build trust and credibility.
  • Use High-Quality Images: Incorporate clear, high-resolution images of the products you’re promoting in visual ads.
  • Promote Bundles and Discounts: Offer special bundles or discounts specifically designed for back-to-school shoppers.
  • Monitor and Analyze Performance: Regularly review analytics to identify what’s working and adjust strategies accordingly.
  • Align with Content Marketing: Ensure that your ads align with informative blog posts or landing pages related to back-to-school preparation, guiding potential customers through the buying process.

Back to… Growth

Hopefully, you’re feeling inspired to create an impactful back to school campaign! 2023 Back to School season offers a chance for retailers who have felt the impact of the pandemic to find a solid footing. The data tells us that parents and kids are eager to spend this season, but the trick will be gaining their attention among the sea of retailers vying for this lucrative market.

Loved this article? We also suggest:

Joyce Qian

View posts by Joyce Qian
Joyce runs Marketing at ContactPigeon. On a daily basis, she ponders on different ways innovative campaigns can translate into significant busienss growth, particularly given the ability to leverage data-driven insights. Outside of work, Joyce loves reading, traveling and exploring her new found home in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. Follow her on LinkedIn.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments