*Updated May 2023.
School’s not yet out for summer, but the end of term time is fast approaching and according to Google Trends data, this is the point in the year where uniform searches start their annual climb, before peaking (for the last-minute buyers) the last week of August, as school returns to session. So, that means now is the perfect time to look at crafting your 'back to school' campaign; we're also taking a look at who has been doing it best in the last few years.
As with all product marketing, back to school is an opportunity to showcase your brand values, highlight to your audiences that you know what they need and understand any challenges or specific needs they may have.
Research from Kantar found that 15% of all childrenswear bought in 2021 was schoolwear, and the market was worth a staggering £533m. With legislation coming into place capping the amount uniforms can cost to prevent families having to splash out excessive amounts each year, how will the industry fare? Watch this space to find out!
So, as the summer holidays approach, how are retailers connecting with their customers in the run up to the new school year?
Let’s take a look at some of the campaigns that caught our attention in the last few years.
Asda: Uniform For The People
Asda came back with a bang after 2021's success. Replicating their music video style campaign, the new class have another catchy rap for viewers to sing along with, while showing off the latest uniform and stationary offerings shoppers can find in-store and online.
We wonder if it'll catch on as much as their previous song did. We'll have to wait and see!
The online fashion retailer have tapped into multiple trends current students know and love – with an American preppy style collection and magical Hogwarts themed range – enticing shoppers with entire looks they can buy at the click of a button.
Not only are offers and product ranges being dropped directly into subscribers' inboxes, they've also been pushing a #SheinBackToSchoolHaul TikTok ad campaign, allowing them to benefit from creators sharing their favourite looks with their followings, all while gathering masses of UGC which can be used in their own ads on the platform.
Marks and Spencer: School uniforms for curious minds
The retail giant and popular destination for school uniforms has made an effort over recent years to expand their audiences to include those on tighter budgets by introducing better value products across their food, home and clothing offerings. Now more than ever, with the cost of living crisis looming, shoppers are searching for the best-priced options before parting with their cash.
This 'value pricing' has extended to their school uniforms, with an emphasis last year on maintaining 2021 prices, demonstrating to parents that the recent rise in inflation and general production/shipping costs hasn't been passed on to them.
To communicate this far and wide, M&S secured the 2022 number one paid spot on Google search for the terms 'school uniform' and 'cheapest school uniform' via a tactical PPC strategy, they're also using social media to showcase their uniform range and low prices, which was awarded the 'Made for Mums: Best High Street Store for school uniforms award' for 2022.
Now let's explore some of our favourite back to school campaigns from the last couple of years.
While the pandemic might now be a dirty word and one we long to forget, it made it necessary for brands to adapt, get creative and bid for the emotional buy in of audiences by helping meet challenges.
Kellogg’s: Back to school
This advert captures the story of a father and son through lockdown, and all the adventures they got up to during the time of home learning, in a colourful animation. However, when it was time for the boy to go back to school, he attempts to reassure his dad that all will be fine, as they’ll still be able to have breakfast together.
Lighthearted, witty and a familiar look into a lockdown life as a parent, this advert reminds customers of the value of spending quality time together, and that breakfast will always be a special part of the day before school starts. With an estimated 13.95 million people consuming breakfast cereals once a day or more in 2020, and Kellogg’s crowned the UK’s favourite cereal brand, it’s no surprise that they’re brilliant at creating adverts that connect well with their customers and mirror present day family life.
Very: Woody’s backpack
In this short but sweet advert, school boy Woody styles up his new backpack with a superhero cape and sunglasses, to show up on his first day in style. The online retailer, formally known as Littlewoods, provides a one stop shop for all things fashion, electrical, home and more.
Amplified by a social media influencer campaign via a selection of mums with large followings, this campaign connected with families across the country in the run up to term time, helping parents prepare their kids for school from the comfort of their own homes with a few simple clicks.
Marks and Spencer: New shoes
Marks and Spencer are firm favourites when it comes to stocking up on school uniforms. Dominating the UK school uniform industry with a 20% market share and ranking number one uniform provider on the Made for Mums forum - based on quality, value for money and washability - the major retailer outranks other high street stores including Next, George at Asda and Matalan.
Alice Duggan (Marks and Spencer’s Head Buyer for childrenswear) told Drapers Online that to combat the drop in sales due to store closures during the pandemic, they increased its online school uniform stock by 75% and made SEO improvements to their site in an effort to improve their rankings when customers searched school uniform-related terms. This pivot of activity shows real attention to trends, data and consumer need, securing them the top spot!
Alongside strategic SEO and PPC efforts, social media was used to get in front of parents as they scrolled feeds during the Summer holidays. This animation on their Instagram highlighting all the benefits of their school shoe range received almost 30,000 views, and is a great example of simple but effective marketing, showing huge budgets aren’t always needed to create impactful campaigns.
Microsoft Teams: Teachers of the year
Adapting to home learning throughout the pandemic was challenging for children and teachers alike, but Microsoft Teams chose to celebrate the wonderful efforts of teachers for pushing through the challenges and making a difference in the lives of their students.
Using clips from virtual classrooms from around the world, this compilation of UGC was a great way to resonate with professionals, parents and pupils, and show appreciation for the unwavering support teachers provided during such a difficult time.
Although not technically a ‘back to school’ campaign, it was great to see a global business shine a light on teachers, we absolutely loved it!
Google: Thank you teachers. Thank you times infinity.
Along the same vein, Google used their own trend data to show what people were searching for during the time of home learning across the globe. This heartwarming ad combined UGC clips of parents, teachers and pupils posted on social media throughout the school year, with popular search terms such as, ‘how to teach from home’ and ‘how to find the value of x’.
This is a brilliant example of utilising data and insights to produce an insightful campaign. Add a dash of relatable, humorous video content and you’ve got a recipe for success. Great job, Google!
Asda: Arrive like you mean it
George at Asda’s 2021 campaign ‘Arrive like you mean it,’ went viral with kids, parents and celebrities alike. Featuring a group of energetic school children rapping about their return to the classroom post-pandemic, “The squad is back'' rap became a huge hit, with Radio 1 host Nick Grimshaw telling listeners “He’d been singing it all day.”
To date, it's had almost 240k views on Youtube alone, with kids learning the lyrics and recreating the music video on platforms like TikTok.
Smiggle: Back to school, back to Smiggle
Smiggle is home to an expansive range of fun and colourful stationary, made to fuel creativity and imagination amongst children.
With its online and high street shops closed during the first lockdown here in the UK, it needed to remind parents of their fantastic quality while engaging with children to get them excited about returning to school.
As well as an extensive PR campaign ensuring they were in every back to school essentials roundup in key press, and even an appearance on This Morning putting them in front of 1.2m viewers, the key to their success was connecting with their end users - the kids.
They partnered with 40 TikTok 'kidfluencers' who were were tasked with picking their favourite products and showcasing them in a haul to their followers. As a result, they amassed over 300,000 TikTok views which meant their stores were flooded with visitors once they could reopen.
As the end of the summer holiday looms, and the school year is set to begin again, how will brands reconnect with parents and pupils to ensure they’re fully prepped for term? Stay tuned to find out more of our favourite back to school campaigns of this year!
Need a hand coming up with a new eye-catching campaign?Drop us a line
Head of Brand & Content
Amy joined in 2014 to set up our Content department. She now heads up a growing Brand and Content team, utilising over 13 years’ experience to deliver brand awareness through targeted, multi-channel copy. As well as engaging content for websites and blogs, Amy delivers PR strategies and tone of voice exploration, helping clients to communicate the purpose and values of their brand with maximum impact.
Social Media Strategist
Extreme's resident Instagram queen, Beth lives and breathes all things social media! After graduating with a degree in Advertising, she explored all aspects of the digital world before firmly finding her feet in the land of social. Day to day, you can find her brainstorming for campaigns, drafting up witty content and strategising to help clients soar on social.