Holiday Marketing

Best Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns (Plus the ‘Worst Ad Ever’)

Laura Kloot
Laura Kloot

Back to school? Back to business!

In 2022, back-to-school retail spending was expected to reach close to $40 billion in the US, or an average of $864 per household. The back-to-college industry is even bigger, with forecast spending of nearly $74 billion, and average household spend of $1199 for college-related products. 

It’s not just school supplies, like books and stationery. Clothing, footwear, electronics, and furnishings are also big sellers during the back-to-school and back-to-college shopping season.

Other categories are trending too. One example is beauty products, thanks to TikTokers sharing their back-to-school makeup ideas and skincare routines.  

For many retailers and e-commerce sites, this is your opportunity to shine with inventive, effective back-to-school marketing campaigns. So we’ve rounded up our favorite commercials and campaigns to inspire you. Check them out below (and just for fun, make sure to read to the end for the back-to-school ad that’s been named ‘the worst commercial of all time’).

Top Picks for Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns

Macy’s – Own your style

During back to school season, parents fork out the cash, but it’s the kids who tell their parents what to buy. Kids have a major influence on back to school purchase decisions – around 80%! This Macy’s back-to-school commercial works because it completely takes the kids’ viewpoint, and places them at the center. More than that, it features a diverse cast and boldly showcases the brands kids love. The cherry on top? The tagline, “Own Your Style”, which perfectly encapsulates the Gen Z mindset that places high value on having a unique identity.

Santander Bank & Twinkl – The numbers game

UK-based Santander Bank and online education company Twinkl have teamed up to provide a free “Money Confidence” learning pack for kids at over 30,000 schools. Together, they launched an engaging back-to-school commercial to promote it, featuring famous comedy team Ant & Dec. As the owners of “Antandec Bank”, the hapless duo visit a local school to ‘educate’ the younger generation about financial management. When a student suggests “hedge funds” as a smart investing option, Ant responds with “There’s no money in gardening.” There’s much more in that vein, and watching the kids’ exasperated expressions makes for a good laugh. Ant & Dec are always fun, and the ad has enough comedy juice to keep you watching till the end. All in all, a fairly dry subject, spruced up nicely with a celebrity collaboration campaign, just in time for the new school year.

The North Face – You can carry it forever

The best of traditional Japanese animation comes through in this simple yet moving back-to-school commercial by The North Face Japan. The outdoor clothing brand has managed to combine nostalgia, nature, family, and the back-to-school season vibe, in a story about one man on a life journey, from high schooler to business professional to retiree. (Or is it three generations? You decide.) Set in a peacefully illustrated lakeside cabin, the student packs his books into a North Face backpack and skateboards to school, the middle aged businessman packs his work into a North Face bag and hops on his bike, while the grandfather loads up his North Face backpack to go fishing. As he sails away, the tagline appears: “You can carry it forever”. Nice!

BodyFX – Back-to-school challenge

Back-to-school is not just a huge event in kids’ lives. It’s a big time for parents too! BodyFX, the popular online fitness program, uses email marketing to capture the attention of fitness-minded parents exactly when they might be wanting to step up their game. The Back-to-School 28-Day Challenge is designed to engage BodyFX subscribers for the first month of the school year with a daily email that includes a recommended workout, meal plan, and recipes, as well as an ongoing cash prize competition to keep up user interest. As far as back-to-school retention campaigns go, we think this is pretty fit!  

Microsoft – Get back to school with Microsoft Teams

There are several target audiences for back-to-school marketing: kids, parents, and teachers too. This back-to-school campaign video by Microsoft Teams is a good example of the importance of product and product marketing. The video launched in August 2021, at the height of the global pandemic when many schools were operating remotely or in a hybrid model. It appeals directly to educators, showcasing several features of the video conferencing software that help teachers manage their classrooms and curricula, and communicate effectively with students remotely. For an explainer video, the best approach is direct, clear, and simple. Microsoft succeeds on all three fronts with this back-to-school ad.   

Nissan – Accelerated!

School books? Sure.
Stationery? Of course! 
Sports shoes? Yes, please.

Auto checkup, repairs, and detailing discount? Why not?

Nissan Dubai takes advantage of the back-to-school mood to entice car owners to get their family vehicles in check. A pun-filled tagline – “Back to School Offers, Accelerated!” – is all that’s needed to connect a great offer to the season. The campaign is a good example of how holidays and occasions can be the perfect “excuse” to engage customers with tempting offers. This is particularly relevant for customers who are already signed on to your brand or product, but need a little nudge to re-engage. Back-to-school season is as good a time as any to work on your customer retention strategy – just follow Nissan’s lead. 

Pepsi – Back to the mini-fridge

Following on from Nissan, this TikTok video by Pepsi is another example of a brand getting creative to tie the back-to-school theme into an advertising opportunity. In this case, Pepsi is promoting their mini-cans, which are the perfect fit for the Pepsi mini fridge…which is the perfect solution for your Pepsi break at school or college. A short clip like this demands zero budget – just a great idea, smartphone, and TikTok account, and voila! There’s a fun, fast and engaging promotion. Pepsi can do it, and so can you.


Back to school means back to the mini fridge

♬ original sound – Pepsi

ASUS – Back to school necessities

The bite-size TikTok video format is a winner, but so is long-form video, and this back-to-school promotional video by ASUS is the perfect example. Featured as a Facebook Live, it runs at over 2 hours, showcasing a range of ASUS products that are great for school studies. The show was simultaneously streamed on other platforms too, but on Facebook alone, it garnered 16,000 views – not bad for a video that doesn’t rely on fancy production values and expensive staging. Just pure product and the opportunity to win giveaways and prizes – always a drawcard!

Amazon – Kathryn Hahn X Amazon

“This year, no price is too low for your children.”

With tongue stuck firmly in cheek, this Amazon video does a nice job of taking the sting out of back-to-school shopping during a recession. As consumers feel the pinch in their wallets, Amazon collaborated with actress and comedian Kathryn Hahn to lighten the mood, reminding parents that they can save money on school supplies at Amazon. Done properly, humor is a powerful tactic to entertain and engage the target audience. Amazon shows how it’s done here, and while Hahn’s star power is definitely a big help, SMBs can still take inspiration from this back-to-school campaign and test out their own funny ideas.

Marks and Spencer – Back-to-school countdown

See exactly how content marketing is done with a quick look at Marks & Spencer’s back-to-school guide. The British retailer didn’t settle for your average e-commerce catalog page. Rather, they created a dedicated back-to-school web page, full of useful tips and links to relevant products, organized into easy-to-consume categories, such as “New Term Kit” and “Stress-Busting Uniform”. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that content marketing must be complicated or sophisticated to work. Clever organization and repurposing of existing product pages makes back-to-school content marketing a cinch, and very successful!

Bonus: The Worst Back-to-School Commercial of All Time?

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, in action.

Back in 2014, the East Hills Mall in Missouri, USA, released an ad that went viral, and not for good reasons! Created to promote the mall as the place to go for all your back-to-school needs, the video was so bad, some people wondered if it might actually be fake. Either way, it’s fun to watch, and also a lesson in what-not-to-do, unless you’d like to go viral as the worst commercial too. Watch for a dose of back-to-school inspired cringe: 

Laura Kloot

Laura Kloot

Laura is a seasoned content and marketing writer, with over 10 years' experience writing for Israeli and multinational companies operating all over the world. From the Dead Sea to the diamond exchange, Laura produces content that covers a kaleidoscope of subject matter. Now, she's devoting her time to digging deep into every aspect of performance marketing, writing all kinds of Outbrainy content, while raising three kids, a cat, and running her own writing business.