Humor, Dancing, Celebrities Dominate Back-to-School Ads

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 26, 2016
Back-to-school season is one of the peak times to generate sales for clothing, office supply, and big box retailers, and it seems the season starts earlier each year. In fact, the first back-to-school campaigns were released in late June this summer, compared to mid-July last year.

However, campaigns released in June only received around seven million total views, while campaigns released in July received more than 100 million views. Additionally, Google Trends revealed that the week of Aug. 7th was the peak week for “back to school” search queries in the U.S. So while brands are releasing campaigns earlier in the summer, consumers are most actively searching for back-to-school material toward the end of the summer.

But now that classes are in session, how did brands succeed at grabbing attention this year?

Back-to-school video ads this summer collectively generated more than 133 million online views, and when broken down by creative appeal, humorous appeals generated the most views (more than 52 million).



Released mid-July, Walmart’s “Back to School” and “Back to College” campaigns were by far the most successful, generating more than 19.5 million and 19.1 million views respectively. The ads each follow a before/after storyline of everyday problems during the school year and highlight a specific product on sale that remedies each situation. the humorous appeals and the short length of the clips make for easy consumption.

Music and dancing have also been a popular format for back-to-school campaigns in years past and they continue to generate a significant amount of social attention. In fact, ads with music and dancing generated more than 34,400 social interactions this year, which was more than any other ad creative category.

 H&M’s “New Autumn Collection” campaign, released in early August, received more than 30,055 social shares alone — the most shares out of any back-to-school campaign this year.

Campaigns with celebrity partnerships also attracted a significant amount of attention this year (more than 24 million views). JCPenney’s “Back to School Lip Dub” campaign, released in late July, brought together the best of both worlds with ads that featured a catchy dance beat and actor Alfonso Ribeiro. This was the most-viewed campaign for both the music/dance and celebrity categories with 6.8 million views. The ads feature students riding in a bus who suddenly break out into song and dance while showing off their clothes.

A few brands, including Famous Footwear, Office Depot, and Lysol, took a different approach and focused on the parents’ roles during the back-to-school shopping season. These ads generally had a more heartwarming tone and commended parents for their tough role of raising a family. However, these ads only generated around 9.5 million views and 1,375 social interactions, which placed this creative approach as one of the lower performing groups.

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