Nuala Doyle

By Nuala D

Social Media, Strategy, PR

The best ‘back-to-school’ marketing campaigns of the year

In a school year like no other, how did retailers adapt their marketing activity to connect with customers during the pandemic? Take a look at some of our favourite campaigns from the class of 2020.

The best ‘back-to-school’ marketing campaigns of the year

School’s out for summer, but term time is fast approaching.

The pandemic and fluctuating lockdown restrictions caused an upheaval of the entire education system in 2020 and threw the typical school day routine out the window.

From school closures and online learning, to class bubbles and supporting the families of key workers, it was a challenging time for teachers, students and parents to navigate. Kitchen tables and bedrooms became classrooms, and ‘You’re on mute’ became the new catchphrase.

Research from Kantar found that 15% of all childrenswear bought in the latest year was schoolwear, and the market was worth £533m in the year to 7 February 2021 – a decline of 8.6% year on year as a result of home learning and heavy competitive discounting.

So, in a time where we all had to adapt and overcome, how did retailers connect with their customers in the run up to the new, albeit unusual, school year?

Let’s take a look at some of the campaigns that caught our eye.

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 highstreet 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.

A screenshot of the Google Search page showing Marks and Spencer as the top search result for School Uniforms UK.

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!

A sneak peak at our favourite 2021 back to school campaign so far…

George at Asda’s latest campaign ‘Arrive like you mean it,’ has already gone viral. Featuring a group of energetic school children rapping about their return to the classroom, “The squad is back'' rap has become a huge hit with pupils and parents alike, with Radio 1 host Nick Grimshaw telling listeners “He’d been singing it all day.”

As the end of the summer holiday looms, and the school year is set to return to pre-pandemic normality, how will brands reconnect with parents and pupils to ensure they’re fully prepped for term? Stay tuned to find out our favourite back to school campaigns of 2021!

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PR and Content Executive

Whether she's creating some incredible blog content or identifying another awesome PR opportunity, Nuala is always looking for ways to grow our clients' brand awareness. With a degree in marketing from Sheffield Hallam, Nuala joined team Extreme as a Marketing Executive, then making her home in the PR and Content team.

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