Back to School Marketing Ideas and Campaigns

Experiential Marketing

The back to school season marks a new chapter, and for businesses, a new marketing opportunity. If your business targets the student/Gen Z demographic, or even younger, August and September are great times of the year to deliver a marketing campaign that bolsters your sales. This blog will discuss the ins-and-outs of back to school marketing, as well as general college-geared promotions, that will hopefully inspire some new ideas for your business!

What's So Special About Back To School?

The back to school season is the third largest spending season, only behind Black Friday and Christmas. And while most people don’t associate buying a new backpack or laptop for school with mall stampedes like on Black Friday, it’s still definitely a time that businesses should capitalize on. 

You may wonder, what kinds of businesses should capitalize on a back to school promotion? How do you know if your company would benefit? To measure this, we need to look at spending trends in the United States during these fall months in the previous year.

Spending Trends for the 2021 School Year

In 2021, in the US alone, a whopping $19.5B is spent on apparel during these back to school months, which makes sense. When you put yourself back in the shoes of a teenage or college-aged student, you realize that going back to school means an opportunity to reinvent yourself. In other words, for students especially, August and September are the delegated months for buying a few new pants and tops that exude a new persona. 

At the same time, an incredible $9.7B is spent on dorm and apartment furnishing, and each average student spends a total of around $1.2K on apparel, electronics, and home and living products during the back-to-college season. If you’re a business focused on selling any of these amenities, you can capitalize on back to school.

2022 Spending Predictions

Back to school spending is expected to reach new heights this year, as we return to normalcy from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s projected that shoppers will shell out upwards of $34.4B for K-12 students, which would be roughly a 5.8% increase over last year and 24% since 2019, according to the 2022 Deloitte Back-to-School Survey, released last week. The approximately $661 spend per child is 8% better than last year and 27% since 2019.

As for college-aged students, economists are expecting a raise from $1,200 per person in 2021.

Where are back to school shoppers spending their money?

So, as we discussed, the majority of the average consumer’s money is spent on clothes, shoes, electronics, and furniture. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be gained for businesses that are different in nature and sell different products/services.

For example, maybe you’re a company that sells granola bars. The back to school season is the perfect time to promote your food products as the perfect school snack! So even if your product or service doesn’t fit into the back to school season seamlessly, there are creative ways to advertise yourself to appear in line with the back to school spirit.

When should you begin marketing for back to school?

In the United States, you can expect the back to school season to begin as early as July and as late as the mid-end of September depending on the state. 

As for back to school shopping, you can predict for shoppers to be  most active during late July til early August for the 2022-2023 school year. This means that the earlier you jump on the bandwagon, the better— but there’s no clean-cut start or end-time.  

Who is Gen Z?

Suffice to say, Gen Z appreciates the unconventional. So, when you’re thinking about how to execute a successful back to school promotion, you should really be brainstorming ways to communicate with this demographic in a way that leaves a lasting impression, which can be hard to do if you’re not a part of the generation, or up with the latest trends, yourself. 

What’s often misunderstood about today’s 14 to 22 year olds is that because this is a generation that grew up with the internet and can hardly remember a time without social media, the best way to reach them is through the digital space. And yes, while you’re pretty much 100% sure to reach this target audience through social media, you may not be leaving as strong of an impression as you would through a different focus.

Alternatives to Social Media Marketing

Of course, social media advertising is one tactic, and it can be successful, but by the same token, it’s a marketing approach that is overdone and saturated.

If you’ve used social media campaigns in the past, and are looking for something different that resonates, mobile brand activations— and experiential marketing at large— might be the perfect option for you.

Back to School Marketing Campaigns and Tips

By partnering with Food Truck Promotions, you get the opportunity to create a unique, in-person experience that this young, unorthodox demographic values more than the same old Internet and social media approach.

What’s perfect about immersive brand activations, too, is that it creates an experience that is geared more towards an enjoyable and memorable in-person experience while also being easily captured and posted on social media. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day, Gen Z is still the generation most active on Tik Tok and Instagram.

Food Truck Promotions and Campus Promos

Like stated earlier, you can still use marketing aimed at student demographics even outside of fall months. When you’re targeting this age group in general, experiential marketing activations are a great way to bring your products or services to them, by actually going to schools and college campuses.

Below we’ll reminisce on some on-campus, student-directed marketing our team has done in past years. We hope that some of our work brings you inspiration for your next marketing campaign!

1. Shaka Tea

Most recently in terms of on-campus marketing, our team partnered with Hawaiian beverage brand, Shaka Tea. The company hired us to brainstorm and execute ways to get them more brand awareness on the US mainland, which led to the idea of a cross-country mobile tour.

The tour started in Seattle, then made big stops in Denver, Miami, and Charlotte. It was in Charlotte specifically that we employed back to school marketing; just last weekend, the Shaka Tea truck drove around the University of North Carolina’s campus to target the late teen-early twenties demographic. 

The eye-catching design of the truck, as well as the promise of complimentary iced tea on the first day of class, garnered the attention of thousands of students. Especially during the kick-off months of school, Shaka Tea was able to capitalize on the excitement of back to school to make their brand more appealing with this target audience.

2. Alpha Foods

Alpha Foods is a company that offers plant-based alternatives to the traditionally meat-based foods we all love. A lifestyle admittedly much more appealing to younger generations, Alpha Foods decided to get their ‘meatless meals in minutes’ into the hands of college students all over California. But, how? 

By partnering with us for an efficient and memorable way of getting consumers sampling their product in high-volume. The activation also included a branded, signable photo-frame that encouraged students to interact with the Alpha Foods brand while waiting in line. Thankfully, the built-in photo-ops also encouraged organic social media coverage! 

3. Aerie

Our partnership with Aerie is another great example to look at if you want to stand out to your target audience this new school year.

To promote the brand’s new Waffle clothing line, Aerie stopped at different college campuses all over the country during the fall.

The stops included Boston University, George Washington University, and Ohio State, and the brand attracted large groups of people by giving out Belgian Boys waffles and Aerie socks and coupons from a truly unique experiential vehicle. 

4. Schmooze

Schmooze is a fast-growing dating app that evaluates people’s compatibility based on something completely revolutionary: their affinity to memes. That’s right, depending on what memes you like most, the algorithm will match you with someone who appears to share the same interests and sense of humor. 

This completely modern approach to match-making is something that, of course, we felt needed to be marketed on college campuses. That’s why we branded a cart and got Schmooze on MIT, Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston University. The cart brought awareness to the Schmooze brand in a truly unconventional and impressive way.

5. Chewy

We helped Chewy capitalize on the back to school momentum by giving out Chewy bars and lunchboxes in New York City. The goal of the activation was to reach kids, students, and parents, and promote Chewy’s brand as the perfect school snack while also fundraising for Adoptaclassroom.org. Not to mention, the person gifting New Yorkers with lunchboxes and Chewy bars was the one and only Neil Patrick Harris!

Chewy was clever enough to capitalize on the fact that their bars make the perfect snacks for students of all ages— which makes targeting students for a back to school promotion (that also supported a good cause) the perfect marketing strategy. All in all, our team was extremely happy to help them and thousands of dollars were raised for Adoptaclassroom.org while reinforcing a positive brand-image for Chewy!

Last Thoughts on Back to School Promotions

When you’re targeting elementary, high school or college-aged students, from a marketing perspective, it’s important to know the right ways to communicate. It’s also just as important to know when to try to get a certain message out. 

We hope that by discussing the back to school season while we’re in the swing of it, you feel inspired to use this time period to execute creative and successful marketing campaigns. Contact us if you’re interested in experiential marketing on wheels!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email