10 Insights Driving Today's Back-to-School Campaigns

The second-biggest selling season of the year is in full-swing, and families are rushing to their local malls and retail stores for the best deals, for their back-to-school (BTS) shopping.

What makes this year different then the last? For starters, brands began promotions earlier this year (a full month is some cases), yet consumers are procrastinating (38% will be making BTS purchases AFTER school has started). Also "mandatory" items such as school supplies will likely make it into the shopping bag, however big-ticket items such as laptops will remain largely on the shelf (only 21% of moms report spending over $500 on BTS purchases this year).

Brands Zeroing-In On Teens: Teens (13-17 years old) make up the majority of "back to school" search queries online. Throw in the fact that 75% of teens own a cell phone, and you can understand why so many brands are trying to win-over teens online and through their smart phones. Here are a few compelling examples in the market, and advice on how to connect with teens during this busy shopping season:




Let their friends weigh-in on purchases: A new mobile app called "Go Try It On" is helping teens tap their social networks for fashion advice as they try on the latest fall fashions. Sephora and The Gap recently partnered up with them to offer support from live "fashion experts" representing their brands in an effort to create a direct one-to-one relationship between brand and teen at the point of sale. Since its launch, over 250,000 people have downloaded the app and it has generated over 10 million outfit comments. Another social shopping app gaining ground is "" which has brand partners such as American Eagle and a popular fashion blog where top "Posers" can share what's hot in fashion with the masses. With 37% of teens planning on buying an iPhone in the next 6 months, and 17% already owning one, the decision regarding which device to support is an easy one.


Make BTS shopping a game: Retailers are embracing gaming mechanics as a way to drive engagement and make shopping more fun. Top Shop & SCVNGR teamed up in the UK to turn BTS shopping into a game. As teens check-in and complete challenges at local Top Shop stores, they will unlock in-store discounts and be rewarded with exclusive offers. Targeting the college market, Sears has taken a different approach, leveraging gaming to build an active Facebook community by incentivizing social activities through its "College Life Challenge" Facebook application. The app allows teens to earn points by completing challenges such as liking a wall post, uploading photos, or inviting a friend to the community. Teens can redeem these points for a variety of offers from discounts to dorm products. 


Help teens customize their look: The ability to personalize a product before purchase is almost a requirement of any successful retail or fashion brand with today's teens. JC Penney pushes this further, incorporating a "style mixer" into their iPhone Ads, letting teens mix and match outfits before clicking through to a mobile commerce site. American Eagle (AE) is helping teens picture themselves wearing their brand by teaming up with Polyvore to create a cool mix-and-match application on AE's Facebook page which allows consumers to blend images of branded merchandise with their own profile photos. The resulting mash-ups were put to a vote, with the winner being called-out on AE's Times Square billboard.

Applaud their haul: Teens consume over 7 hours of mobile video content every month, nearly twice as any other age group. JC Penney was quick to tap this growing back-to-school trend last fall, and takes it another step further this year, bringing haul videos to a new mobile site ( Teens can opt-in to receive text message alerts with offers, and even upload their own look, for peers to vote on. With top haul video stars Blair & Elle Fowler having generated over 150 million view of their haul videos, it is a trend that will continue to capture the attention of brands looking to ride the wave of viral video and peer recommendation.


Close the deal through Facebook: Just in time for BTS, Aeropostale launched its Facebook store on August 1st, allowing teens to browse and purchase items from the company's entire online catalog directly from their Facebook page. In addition, customers can "like" and share product purchases from the store with their Facebook friends. Facebook. Brands such as Express and GameStop have already created storefronts on Facebook, with more joining every day.


Help them design their dorm: One of the biggest back-to-school stressors for incoming freshmen (and their mothers) is wondering whether or not they have sufficiently decked-out their door rooms. Sears comes to the rescue this fall with an impressive execution of a "3D Dorm Planner." Students accessing this Facebook app can easily drag-and-drop dorm products into virtual rooms, post to their Facebook walls, and generate shopping lists of all products they selected for their dream dorm.

After hours shopping & transportation: For the 10th consecutive year, Target is hosting late-night shopping trips (transportation included) to and from 66 college campuses across the country for college freshmen, who would otherwise be stranded and in need of over-looked dorm supply items. With more than half of all college students shopping at night between 8 p.m. and midnight, it is no wonder why they continue this program.

Helping Mom Survive Another BTS Season: Marketers know this will be another challenging back-to-school season for moms seeking to provide essential school supplies for her teens. 75% of moms say that offers and coupons will have the biggest influence on her purchases this season, as 90% will redeem those offers when shopping in store. Here are some ways that brands are stepping-up to help mom out this season:


Organize her shopping list: For Mom, there is nothing worse than sending her children off to school ill-prepared. Mobile shopping lists are being used by 26% of moms to keep track of it all. Target is harnessing this insight by providing moms with an online shopping list which syncs to her mobile device, with the option of sharing out to her Facebook community. Sears is offering a "Mom's Amazing List" tool on its Facebook page. The tool lets a parent create an easy to reach online shopping list and "suggests" some items based on gender and age.

Save money through mobile deals: Two thirds of moms are using their smart phones to make informed purchases, and 36% are using them to compare prices. A fast-growing mobile app called SWAGG is empowering moms with mobile deals, and partnering with thousands of merchants. SWAGG already has partnerships with brands such as JC Penney, American Eagle and launched a campaign with The Gap in August to giveaway 3,000 gift cards this month for Back-To-School.

Help her see what's in stock: With 38% of moms saying they will wait until after school begins before making their back-to-school shopping trips, it will be vital that she knows if a product is in stock before heading to the store. Earlier this month, Finish Line unveiled a mobile app that provides real-time reporting of product inventory at local stores, and geo-tracking with directions to help moms get there.

Brands have invested heavily in reaching teens and moms during the Back-To-School rush. With teens and moms aggressively consuming content and engaging with friends through their mobile devices, expect to see brands offer deeper integration of mobile and social applications into their businesses. The largest sales season is just around the corner, so take these insights into consideration as this generation begins contemplating their holiday purchases.

1 comment about "10 Insights Driving Today's Back-to-School Campaigns".
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  1. Jess Lam, September 3, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.

    Nick - Great breakdown of the BTS campaign. It's interesting how brands and stores are trying to hit the needs of parents and teens for this specific season. I recently created a new service that helps friends and family shop together online in real time. It's helpful for people who don't have time to get together or are in different cities. Check us out at for an invite and watch our video to get the concept

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