Back to school, ring the bell, as The White Stripes once said.
Back-to-school season is right around the corner, which means you should already be preparing your back-to-school marketing campaigns.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the most creative, successful, and interesting back to school campaigns to inspire you. We also explain why we think each one is great, and share some key takeaways your businesses could use to excel in your marketing.
Stick around, it’s going to be an interesting ride — we’ve got a wild mix of high-budget campaigns and $50 ones, campaigns featuring celebrities, campaigns created by actual kids, and even a gin campaign (yes, we’re talking back to school marketing!)
And don’t forget that you can always count on VistaCreate to help you with your stunning back to school campaign visuals. Simply select ready-made templates that fit your vibe, adjust the designs, and post them to socials.
13 back to school marketing campaigns that stand out
1. All Brand New by Macy’s
When you’re still a child (or a teenager, for all it matters) time seems to go by much slower — the school year feels like an entire lifetime! So, every new school year, you get to start a new turn of the cycle, a brand new life. You can pick your new friend group, interests, and who you want to be.
Macy’s has successfully exploited this idea in their back to school campaign, All Brand New. In a dynamic, vibey dance video ad, the department store showed a bunch of kids enjoying themselves at school, doing all kinds of rebellious activities. All while pushing the idea that to have a brand new fresh start at school, you need some brand new clothes that Macy’s can provide.
What was good about this back to school campaign? The video is simple, yet effective. It gets the message across, it’s dynamic, and well-made. You want to watch it more than once. Well, at least we did. And the music! All Brand New by Danger Twins is such a catchy tune!
Key takeaway: Music is an important part of your campaign video — make sure it matches the vibe and conveys the message of your campaign. Ideally, it should mention your campaign’s name, too, but that’s rather an exception to the rule than the rule.
2. #ThrowbackToSchool by Macy’s
— Elizabeth Gillies (@LizGillies) August 9, 2016
— AnnaSophia Robb (@robbannasophia) August 23, 2016
Another Macy’s campaign made it to the list (don’t worry, it’s not going to be just Macy’s, there are 11 more campaigns in this article). All for a good reason!
In 2016, Macy’s decided to remind everyone that school is about trendy clothes, too, and mashed together two popular hashtags #Throwback and #BackToSchool, birthing the #ThrowbackToSchool campaign.
Within this campaign, the chain of department stores asked young female celebrities and social media influencers to share their favorite fashion trends from their school years. The campaign featured images of these celebrities wearing these trends, head to toe in Macy’s.
On top of that, they also encouraged their followers to #throwbacktoschool with them at different Macy’s locations, by inviting them to meetups for back to school shopping there.
What was good about this back to school campaign? This is a simple, straight-to-the-point campaign, and we love it for that! The idea behind it is straightforward enough to be understood by many, and it encourages the target audience to take action. In fact, it’s interactive enough for people to willingly create user-generated content for the brand.
Key takeaway: Don’t shy away from coming up with a hashtag for your back to school marketing campaign. It increases your chances of getting noticed and reaching a bigger audience. On top of that, it can also help you generate UGC.
3. Back to school online safety campaign by Internet Matters
There are two types of school kids: the ones that love school and are thrilled to go back to the classroom, and those who dread the end of Summer not only because it means that the sunny, hot days are over, but also because September brings a new school year.
While there are only so many reasons for kids to like school and anticipate returning, the reasons for not liking it are many. There are early mornings, lots of homework, complicated subjects, and much more! But the most dreadful thing that a student can face is a lack of friends and school bullying, which is, unfortunately, a very widespread problem.
Internet Matters decided to dedicate their 2018 back-to-school campaign to this very problem and released a series of videos talking about the issues of primary and secondary school children’s online safety.
In a short video that leads the campaign, a junior boy is standing in front of a door, while his mom is checking things off the back-to-school checklist before driving her child to school. The thing she’s worried about is a water bottle, not paying attention to the fact that her kid is upset and terrified of going back to school because of what his classmates posted about him online.
The tagline for the campaign is “Put your child’s digital well-being at the top of your ‘back to school’ list to ensure they know how to handle the challenges they’ll face online.”
What was good about this back-to-school campaign? This campaign focuses on an important social issue, which makes it both extremely important and extremely powerful. On top of that, apart from managing to eloquently tell a deep story in under 30 seconds, it also does a great job at being useful. The Internet Matters campaign doesn’t only raise awareness around the topic of bullying online, but also provides a solution to it by offering parents valuable knowledge packed into a series of educational videos.
Key takeaway: Make your campaign useful by focusing on offering a solution to some problem adjacent to the back to school season.
4. #ShareKleenexCare by Kleenex
Another back to school marketing campaign that focuses on serious social matters instead of promoting traditional school products is #ShareKleenexCare by Kleenex. Better than anyone else, this tissue brand knows that going back to school is hard, especially if you’re starting middle school. While it’s exciting to meet new people, learn new things, and become a young adult, it’s equally as scary to do all these things.
And it’s okay, you just need to know that you’re not alone in your pre-middle school anxiety, other kids feel exactly the same — and they all need each other’s support. This is the main message of the campaign.
The message is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? But Kleenex went out of its way to deliver the campaign’s main idea. In fact, for their back to school campaign in 2016, Kleenex decided to conduct a social experiment, where they gathered a group of middle schoolers-to-be, and asked them to share their thoughts about the upcoming first day of middle school.
The kids talked about being “overjoyed”, “scared”, “weird”, “excited”, “skeptical”, “anxious”. But once they heard that they weren’t alone in their worries, they quickly became more confident and relieved. Then, the kids were prompted to write positive messages to their peers on packages of Kleenex.
What was good about this back to school campaign? The commercial feels genuine and masterfully tackles a serious problem — anxiety that kids experience before returning back to school. On top of that, #ShareKleenexCare effectively ties in the company’s product and message, reinforcing Kleenex’s values.
Key takeaway: Think about unconventional uses of your product and how you can make your target audience’s life better with your back to school marketing.
5. Staples for Students with Bella Thorne by DoSomething.org
The previous two back to school campaigns focused on mental health issues and raised awareness on the topics of online bullying and pre-school anxiety. This one, however, talks about a completely different problem. One that can also alienate you from your peers, be the cause of bullying, and make you feel anxious, it’s more deeply rooted.
Financial hardships are a huge issue for a lot of Americans both today and in 2012, when the DoSomething.org back to school campaign featuring Bella Thorne aired.
Yes indeed, said Bella Thorne. Today, the star has come under a lot of criticism and was involved in a couple of loud scandals. But back in the day, when the Staples for Students campaign encouraging people to donate school supplies went live, Bella was an exemplary Disney channel star. Therefore, her appearance in a campaign like this was organic and expected.
Bella Thorne did have a lot of impact on younger audiences, which helped this back to school campaign kill two birds with one stone. Apart from receiving donations, it also spoke to low income families, normalizing the subject. .
What was good about this back to school campaign? The campaign talked about a serious issue using simple words, making it accessible to younger audiences. Moreover, the use of a popular figure made the campaign and its message more widespread among the intended audience.
Key takeaway: Make sure you know exactly what your audience will resonate with. And get a star to be a part of your campaign to further reinforce a strong message.
Check out our article to see if your brand could benefit from virtual influencer marketing, and get a virtual influencer to promote your brand this back-to-school season.
6. Prime Day Campaign by Hydros
Bella Thorne isn’t the only one who changed over the years. Influencers and platforms for campaigns have changed, too.
Today, social media campaigns are equally as important as campaigns that use TV as their main medium (if not more!). And TikTok campaigns are a still emerging trend among brands.
@sam.tahan Link in bio to get your @Hydros 20% off during Prime Day (7/12 – 7/13)! #WorkingWithHydros #PrimeDay2022 #hormonehealth ♬ sos – evie
For their back to school slash Prime Day campaign, water flask brand Hydros decided to go all out on TikTok and partner with a variety of different small creators. They sent out their product to these creators and asked them to create short aesthetic videos talking about the benefits of the product and advertising Hydros Prime Day deals.
An interesting thing about this campaign is that Hydros adjusted its marketing message to be relevant to the main demographic at this time of the year, students and moms. Usually, they advertise to an older audience and focus on the product being elegant and convenient. But in the Prime Day campaign, the brand puts emphasis on the product’s planet-friendly qualities.
What was good about this back to school campaign? A small business with a pretty limited budget for a back to school marketing campaign decided to enjoy the benefits of influencer marketing without splurging on huge — and expensive — influencers. They went for smaller creators and hit the right spot: these influencers often tend to have a much more engaged following.
Key takeaway: Make sure to tap into new marketing channels when planning your back to school marketing campaign. And tailor your marketing message to your audience.
7. Back to school 2016 campaign by Target
It’s safe to say that commercials don’t stand anywhere near feature films and TV series in terms of cost. But an ad can be quite costly, too. The cost of production, equipment, paychecks to scriptwriters, light designers, directors, and the rest of the crew often rack up a hefty check. Unless… You get someone with no experience to do the job!
In almost every other scenario, we would say that trusting such an important job as a back-to-school campaign to some novices with no prior experience is a disastrous move. But in this case, the move is… Genius!
In 2016, Target decided to really focus on the target audience of their back-to-school marketing, school kids, and hand over the making of their campaign to them!
The majority of key Target’s campaign elements, such as ideation and script writing, casting actors, directing, styling and starring in the commercials was performed by kids aged from 8 to 17. And they did a spectacular job!
What was good about this back to school campaign? Target’s campaign tapped into an inexhaustible resource, children’s creativity, and received some marvelous results. A series of commercials made by kids for kids is a great example of really doing it for your target audience.
Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid of doing unconventional things in your marketing. And do trust children to come up with good ideas — they see the world differently to us, adults, they’re more open-minded, and often more creative.
8. Get supercharged for college by Apple
The list of the best back to school campaigns (or, to be fair, a list of the best marketing campaigns, in general) would be incomplete without Apple. From year to year, Apple does the same deals that let students and their parents, as well as school faculty and staff save on Macs and iPads for the back-to-school season.
This year, the traditional back to school campaign is very simple; as always, it offers an education discount on its laptops and tablets. This time, under the ‘Get supercharged for college” tagline.
What was good about this back to school campaign? The campaign is simple, yet effective. It offers real value (the discount), and the copy is amazing. Supercharged for college, get it?
Key takeaway: Copy can make or break your back to school campaign. Make sure you find a great copywriter!
9. Aviation Gin Homeschool Edition by Aviation Gin
Since we’ve already touched on the subject of parents and their relationship with the back-to-school season…
Well, yeah, it’s not only about kids. When you have a child, you’re partial to the whole beginning of a new school year craze. Parents are often the main target audience for back to school marketing campaigns, because they are the ones paying for all the supplies, clothes, and other products that can be advertised as necessary for the return back to the class.
But what about advertising the things that aren’t obviously a necessity when it comes to going back to school? And what about parents?
The Aviation Gin Homeschool Edition campaign came out back in 2020, amidst the global pandemic, when kids were to return to online classrooms instead of physical ones. We aren’t sure if you can remember how you felt back in the day (our brain tends to wipe out traumatic memories) but let us tell you, the majority of parents were terrified of “fourth grade geography, whatever the f#*k new math is, and revisiting their own long-forgotten middle school traumas”. Working from home and having to help your kid out with homework? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Ryan Reynold’s gin brand has successfully exploited those fears and released Aviation Gin Homeschool Edition — “just like the classic, delicious Aviation gin that you love, but with more ounces”.
What was good about this back to school campaign? It’s funny, relatable, and we can’t help but love Ryan Reynolds and his narration style (it’s a team-wide thing, actually!). Oh, and the campaign was perfect for the time — we really did find ourselves in an extraordinary situation back in 2020, and a campaign that takes that into consideration is a good campaign.
Key takeaway: Back to school marketing isn’t strictly limited to promoting school-related things. Make sure you know your target audience’s pains. Make your back to school campaign relevant to the situation you’re currently in; it has a higher chance of going viral that way.
10. NFL Sunday Ticket by NFL
The end of Summer isn’t only back-to-school season, it’s also the football season, both at schools and the NFL.
The NFL decided to combine the two occasions and produced a Snapchat-based back-to-school/back-to-football marketing campaign. Within this campaign, the NFL broadcasted a series of short video Snapchat ads. In these ads, they promoted their exclusive student pricing on live streams of out-of-market NFL games throughout the football season.
In the ads, the cost of the relatively cheap NFL Sunday Ticket was compared to popular expenses college students make: textbooks, food, subscriptions to different video and music streaming services, etc.
What was good about this back to school campaign? The brand was well-informed on student concerns (college students are often on a tight budget) and acted on it. On top of that, they also picked a platform that is particularly popular among their target audience and sponsored a medium, the “Back to College” Snapchat Story, that targets a narrow segment of the app users, which has the largest overlap with their target audience.
Key takeaway: Know where your audience is, and direct your marketing efforts there. As an extension of this thought, it always pays off to know where your target audience hangs out online. Especially if you don’t have a big budget, you will want to concentrate your efforts on the channels that will bring the biggest returns.
11. Healthy breaktime snacks by YUMBOX
Eating healthy during study breaks is a problem that is relevant to both college students and parents with school kids. YUMBOX, a bento box company, knows this better than anyone else.
This year, on the eve of a new school year, YUMBOX launched its back to school campaign, in which they share posts with healthy snack recipes on their Instagram, all while promoting their products.
Simple yet effective!
What was good about this back to school campaign? The campaign covers the pains of the target audience and adds more value to the brand by spreading knowledge among YUMBOX’s followers. On top of that, healthy snack recipes are pretty versatile content that will be relevant even outside of the back to school campaign, which drastically increases the lifespan of these Instagram posts.
Key takeaway: Center your campaign around sharing valuable information to position yourself as an industry expert. If you can communicate your expertise through a campaign or other content marketing initiatives, you will likely attract the attention of potential clients.
12. Spot the difference by Staples Stores
— Staples Stores (@StaplesStores) August 22, 2017
Sometimes, a back to school campaign can fit into a singular Tweet, and this Staples Stores example illustrates just that.
To promote their Back to School Center, Staples Stores took it to Twitter and published an interactive post that featured two seemingly identical backpacks on a branded background. The brand asked its followers to play the game of spot the difference and find 7 differences between the two backpacks.
Once followers found all the differences, they could get the backpack for less at the Staples Stores, which the brand account mentioned in the caption to the image.
What was good about this back to school campaign? The publication featured an interactive, easy-to-play game, which everybody loves. Not only is it nostalgic for many, but it’s also fun to play — the factor of competitiveness is high in this one! On top of that, the use of a branded background for the picture is very clever. First of all, it helps increase brand awareness — the spot the difference game requires you to interact with the image for a long period of time, and for entirety thereof, the player stares at the Staples logo. Secondly, if this image goes viral (games like this often get reposted), you get a chance to reach a wider audience.
Make sure you don’t forget to brand your marketing designs with VistaCreate’s Brand Kit. This feature allows you to upload all your branding elements, including your brand colors, logo, and fonts to the VistaCreate editor, and add them to your designs in a matter of seconds.
And check out our Twitter templates!
Key takeaway: Gamify your back to school marketing campaign. Brand your designs for social media really quickly with the use of an online graphic design editor.
13. Guess how many braces are in the jar by Marchetto Cooper Orthodontics
This isn’t Marchetto Cooper Orthodontics’ first rodeo, ahem, school season. This Florida clinic has been running the same back to school campaign for several years now. And still, it’s still as relevant as new.
Right before the start of a new school year, Marchetto Cooper Orthodontics launches a back to school contest, asking its Instagram followers how many erasers are in the jar. The person that guesses correctly gets a chance to win a $50.00 gift card.
In the previous years, the clinic posted winners on their social media, which also doubled as a great testimonial and raised the brand’s credibility.
What was good about this back to school campaign? It’s interactive, engaging, simple, and capable of attracting a lot of attention since it offers a tangible incentive.
Key takeaway: Your back to school campaign can be extremely low-effort and low-budget, but remain extremely effective. Contests do wonders!
That’s it! Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to start ideating your own back to school marketing campaign. Don’t waste any time, use VistaCreate to bring your ideas to life — we have everything you need, from templates to creative assets to all the necessary tools.