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Back-To-School Trends

When you’re a teenager, there are few days of the year as momentous as the first day back to school. After months off, they re-enter the social realm of school and just about every youth marketer is on hand to help today’s teens strut their stuff with a fresh look and new gear. Here are five back-to-school marketing trends we’re seeing this year that will help you make the grade with teens. 

Don’t Be Tardy

Back to school is the latest “holiday” to experience retail creep. Even though school starting dates have long-since ranged from early August in the Southeast to after Labor Day in the Northeast, this is the first year we’ve seen back-to-school ads popping up before the Fourth of July holiday. Nervous retailers are clamoring to get a slice of the $84 billion pie that the National Retail Federation estimates families spend on students heading back to classrooms, from kindergarten to college. Walmart was among the first to begin announcing its annual back-to-school sales, and Apple surprised many when it launched its back-to-school sales on July 3. Parents aren’t complaining as they take advantage of early deals, though we’re sure they’ll still have plenty of school shopping to do in the coming weeks.

Cash In With Celeb Cachet

As teen-focused networks (and YouTube) continue to roll out new shows, there’s an ever-expanding selection of young stars to work with, and brands are leveraging celebrities more than ever during this back-to-school season. Macy’s continues its connection with ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” with the show’s stars wearing its fashions during two new episodes this August. While the show airs, fans can chat with the show’s stylist and shop for the looks they see on their favorite characters via Macy’s back-to-school portal. And don’t forget teen musicians. Keds recently announced its second, expanded collaboration with Taylor Swift will hit stores this month, just in time for back to school. Even retailers that don’t typically market to teens are looking to cash in on celeb appeal; Office Depot debuted a line of One Direction-themed school supplies (and nail polish) this season. 

It’s All About Social Media

For teens — both girls and guys — much of the focus on back to school is on fashion. For the second year, Teen Vogue is promoting Back-To-School Saturday, coming up on Aug. 10, as the day to get that critical outfit for the first day of school. The magazine is partnering with a significantly expanded roster of brands, from Macy’s to Procter & Gamble to Toyota, for events across the country and online. Social media is one key to the celeb-fueled campaign’s success. Twitter users can follow all the events, celeb sightings, and fashion trends associated with the big day using the hashtag #BTSS. Target is also making social media a core of its 2013 campaign. It’s promoting an Instagram hashtag contest where the retailer will use fan-inspired photos to create special back-to-school looks. Meanwhile Kmart is hoping for another viral hit as it released a new back-to-school ad, filled with “yo momma” jokes, on YouTube.

Pimp My Room (Or Locker)

We’re seeing more and more gear to help the “Me Generation” customize their space at school, whether they have a locker or a dorm room. Target — a well-known source for funky finds for teens’ rooms — is hosting a four-day live webcam trained on students (who also happen to be YouTube stars) living in a mock dormitory. Viewers can interact with the students, get info about the products featured in each room, and enter for a chance to win the goods. The interactive webcam feature ends today, but next month Target is taking the show on the road to five universities. Meanwhile, Staples is well stocked for high schoolers. On a recent shopping expedition, we found everything from magnetic “wallpaper” to locker rugs to custom-printed notebook covers.

Just Be Cause

While most teens are probably tired of anti-bullying messages by now, many retailers continue to partner with a variety of anti-bullying non-profits to add a halo of doing good to their marketing efforts. Abercrombie & Fitch and Office Depot are both including an anti-bullying message or donation as part of their campaigns. But bullying isn’t the only cause teens — or brands — care about. Staples is giving back by donating supplies to students in need, Target’s Give With Target program is well on its way to donating $1 billion to a variety of education-related causes by 2015, and Walmart continues to help teachers and schools by donating millions in classroom supplies.

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