YouTube Magic Powers New Old Navy, Macy's, Target Campaigns

With back-to-school spending tightening up, the country’s biggest retailers are going full-on Motown to win kids over, with Old Navy, Macy’s, and Target all introducing musical campaigns inspired by YouTube legends. In addition to catchy rhythms and athletic moves, the chains have also built in extensive cause-marketing components, hoping to leverage the power of social media.

Old Navy has a new version of last year’s #Unlimited effort, meant to get kids singing and dancing their way through study hall. This one features an original song and dance video. For inspiration, the Gap-owned brand went to Boys & Girls Clubs around the country and asked kids to define “unlimited,” then handed the resulting song over to YouTube music video director and musician Kurt Hugo Schneider. He shot the performers, including YouTube star Megan Nicole and Awesomeness TV talents Alex Aiono, Cimorelli, Jordyn Jones, Josh Levi, Mahogany Lox, in one continuous take.

Most of the cast wears special edition Old Navy #Unlimited t-shirts, with 20% of each shirt going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. It’s also running in-store donation drives and will match those contributions, as well as making contributions based on the number of times the song is downloaded. The company says it hopes the entire effort will raise $500,000.

Macy’s is also encouraging in-school ensemble acts, throwing down its All-School A Cappella Challenge, with stars Pentatonix starring in the spot introducing the contests. Kids can perform their version of the Jackson 5 classic “I Want You Back” and upload it on YouTube. The song must be sung on school grounds, and winners will get $25,000 for their school, with three winners: Elementary through middle school, high school and college levels. 

In addition to appearing in a TV campaign, members of Pentatonix (who have so far collected over 1 billion YouTube views) will also judge the commercials. 

Target is also taking a cue from Motown, with a series of spots featuring Tori Kelly singing a remake of the Jackson Five’s “ABC.” And it’s swinging for the fences with its fund-raising component, promising to give $5 in back-to-school items to the Kids In Need Foundation every time the song is downloaded from SoundCloud. The intention is to generate $3.5 million in merchandise. 

Meanwhile, Brand Keys reports that in its latest survey, parents are keeping a lid on back-to-school spending at $650 per household, about even with last year. The New York-based brand loyalty research consultancy says the survey, based on some 8,500 households around the country, also reveals that Walgreen's and Sears are now among the top 10 list of most popular retail brands. And Target moves into the top spot, to ahead of Walmart.

"It would appear that their return to a 'cheap chic' positioning is working," says Robert Passikoff, its founder and president, in a release. And for e-tail brands, moved up the list from 2014's #10 spot to #3. 

"While consumer confidence indices have been moving in a positive direction this year,” he says, “parents are taking a hard look at what their children really need for back-to-school.”

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