8 Standout Back-to-School Campaigns That Get Extra Credit For Creativity

The back-to-school period provides a golden opportunity for brands. The mass appeal of the BTS annual shopping season, as both parents and students gear up to get in preparation mode just in time for the schools’ openings, marks it as a grand creative moment for everyone. 

There’s a certain given about the back-to-school mentality: people are willing to spend. Whether they need a new laptop for their studies, the entire stationery aisle for all their note-taking or brand new school uniforms and outfits to make an impression on the school yard’s red carpet, there’s great ways to incentivise audiences from all angles and perspectives. 

Brands look to enhance their visibility and credibility in reaching a wider audience and meeting the needs of consumers, and some classic international brands have set a high bar for creativity, engagement and brand resonance in capturing the spirit of the back-to-school season. 

1. Target x Bullseye University

Target got the word out on its extensive range of school supplies with a little help from five YouTube stars. In an ingenious digital experience, Target teamed up with Bullseye University to brilliantly tap into the influencer culture to showcase a real-life, immersive example of campus life. The YouTubers live-streamed their dorm rooms for four days, in giving their audience of young viewers a realistic glimpse into college life, while putting Target at the centre of their beautifully decorated rooms. The collaboration paid off, as Target saw an increase of 37% to its online sales compared to previous years.

2. M&S - Spend It Well

M&S is a staple destination for back-to-school clothing and supplies that always shines bright in promoting their high-quality products. For this campaign, they chose a different route with a universal message that spoke to everyone: I got this! Tapping into the difficult mentality of going back to school and dealing with the social stress that comes with it, M&S opted for a more sentimental messaging to break the mould of more traditional BTS advertisements that instilled a lot of confidence in their audience and encourages a perseverance through whatever life throws at you. Along with a catchy tagline and hashtag, #SpentItWell, the brand was able to associate itself with positive values that expanded its credibility as a welcoming go-to destination for everything school-related. 

3. Coca Cola - Friendly Twist 

Coca Cola may not be the first brand that comes to mind when thinking about BTS campaigns, but that’s exactly the innovation and initiative that has kept the brand ahead of the competition for decades now. Imagine the first day of college. The tension, awkwardness and loneliness that prevails as you embark on a new journey with countless strangers around you feeling the same kind of emotions. The ice-breaker? A Coca Cola, of course. Through an outdoor activation, the brand introduced a special cap for its bottles that would only open when attached and twisted with another one. Talk about a conversation-starter! Students loved it and along with its memorable campaign name, Friendly Twist, the brand exemplified how to make true, meaningful connections with BTS campaigns. 

4. Staples - Time of the Year 

An oldie, but a goodie! Staples, a classic go-to destination for back to school shoppers, managed to combine two universally-relatable concepts into one successful BTS campaign that still remains incredibly popular and admired: Christmas and parents looking forward to sending their kids back to school. The ad spot featured the popular Christmas song ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ as parents skipped through Staples’ aisles, as they celebrated the end of summer vacations, and children begrudgingly followed behind them, in a clearly unhappy state. The ad managed to tap into the mentality of both parents and children during that period, through the elements of humour and relatability, and evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia by positioning themselves as a dependable BTS choice. 

5. Gap - Gap to School 

Gap’s ‘Gap to School’ campaign in 2019 came after some controversy and criticism was placed on the brand after their previous year’s ad. In 2018, Gap’s ad seemed to play into gender stereotypes in a big way and was not generously received by audiences. The brand came back stronger with an all-inclusive, loud, omnichannel campaign that featured a big focus on inclusivity and diversity. With the dynamic tune ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ playing at the background and aspiring young musicians playing to the beat of the music, Gap was able to win over their audience and showcase an empowered message of encouraging students to express their unique style, identity and embrace their individuality. 

6. Kellogg’s - B2S 

Kellogg’s, although an established and renowned brand that takes care of families’ breakfast needs across households around the world, still sees a good enough reason to resonate with both adults and children with a fun, animated back-to-school campaign. The short clip uses a real parent and son to give a realistic feel of school preparations by revisiting summer vacation activities leading up to the day of the son sharing a cereal breakfast with his father and getting up to go to school, leaving him with a ‘Don’t worry dad, you’ll be OK’. The brand was able to reach out and relate to parents and children who are going through the same kind of scenario, by tugging on their heartstrings and building a meaningful relationship with them. Kellogg’s back-to-school animation was a reminder that the brand is by the side of its consumers, whatever the occasion or circumstances. 

7. Nike - Never Done Playing 

With a big focus on storytelling, Nike was able to create a dynamic and vibrant back-to-school campaign that conveyed the message of ‘finding the magic in the mundane’ through a number of short clips that showed how everyday chores can be transformed into fun events. The brand took a rather unconventional approach for a BTS campaign, lacking in school uniforms, activities and supplies, but rather focusing on everyday family moments to inspire its audience to create memories, filled with energy, vibrancy, fun and of course, Nike apparel. They also used the influencer factor, as their first ad featured football star Virgil van Dijk and his family, to put the word out into the media realm and remind young dreamers to approach everything with the mindset that they are ‘never done playing’. 

8. McDonalds - Welcome Back to School

McDonalds sees their products in everything. Even school supplies! Their inventive ads are always a sight to behold, and it was no exception for one of their back-to-school campaigns, with a backpack being reminiscent of a Happy Meal, a cup of pencil seeming like a pack of French fries and stacked books looking like their famous Big Mac. The brand never shies away from grabbing the opportunity to become part of the social conversation and remind people how all life moments can be associated and accompanied by McDonalds. 


As back-to-school season approaches, and both marketers and brands are looking for impactful ways to connect with their target audience, these international campaigns mark a great inspirational point of reference for exceeding creative limits and using emotions in their storytelling mechanisms to become associated with the BTS mentality. 

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