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29 October 2021

Back To School: A Colossal Opportunity for Big, Bold brands

It’s hard to ignore the pandemic-related shockwaves that keep rippling through each aspect of retail – almost without exception. Case in point: the annual Back-to-School buying season was sent into overdrive in 2021, thanks to record-high spending among families.


Behind the soaring sales performance was a rarefied parental mindset, as moms and dads gave the back-to-classes milestone particular weightiness. After months of arduous online learning, isolation and uncertainty, many parents were keen to make the return to school a positive and downright momentous occasion, and they stocked up on plenty of electronics, clothes, supplies and treats in preparation.


Aiming to make their children’s transitions from home learning to the classroom environment as seamless as possible, parents spent more cash and splurged often. Estimations from Deloitte suggest that spending on B2S rose 16% in 2021, to an average of $612 per child.


These figures mirror those of the National Retail Federation, which predicted total back-to-school spending would rise to $37.1B. Up from $33.9B last year and an all-time high in the NRF survey's history. Also setting records were college students and their families, whose expected spending rose from $67.7 billion last year to $71B in 2021 – a whopping $1,200 per household.


But it wasn’t just the scale of buying and splurging that set this year’s B2S apart from previous years. It was also the speed at which parents and kids set to shopping. B2S demand began to spike earlier by weeks, driven by stock availability concerns and wariness around looming inflation.


Like last year, Back-to-School expanded even further into the Health & Wellness space, with promotions on items such as immunity-boosting vitamins and supplements, first aid kits, anti-bacterial gel and wipes, tissues, and even sleep sprays to help kids unwind and get more rest on school nights.


With uncertainty around the return to school running high, this year’s B2S took on a “ready for anything” theme. And while it’s unsure how much B2S will depart from the wellness space and shift back to “core” school supplies is unknown, we have a feeling a lot of these items will become permanent additions to the yearly shopping list.


Branding and B2S


Given the boom in B2S over the past couple of years, savvy brands will certainly be looking to hone their strategies to prepare for opportunities in 2022.


From limited edition B2S packaging to omnichannel marketing, brands have a gamut of options to try to win new customers. Whichever tactics are chosen, keeping up with branding trends targeted to the core audience AND a slick to-market process appear to be common factors to get B2S done right.


Let’s unpack this a bit. When we’re considering the audience, for the very young children it will be the parents themselves, but from not much older than first grade, kids begin to have a massive say in the purchase decision-making process. From a branding and packaging perspective, this requires designing for multiple generations, which in reality is no mean feat.


Multi-generational design means being attuned to the trends kids are seeing and interacting with on social media, especially the platform of the moment, Tik Tok.


Communicating with Generation Z (ages 9 to 24) is an entirely different ball game than appealing to Millennials (the oldest of whom are starting fall within the parent demographic themselves).


Described as “saturated with internet culture and humor”(Glossy), communication in the Generation Z age groups is driven by the way young people communicate online, such as using memes, funny snaps and self-effacing language.


Departing from the pared back blush pink and simple lines aesthetic preferred by Millennials and refined on Instagram, Tik Tok-obsessed Generation Z is into all things vivid, irreverent, humorous and noisy. Many youthful brands are giving an ‘aspirational’ persona a miss, favouring instead a feel that’s much more accessible and relatable.


Music and social media are critical to brand recall and engagement, says Ad Club NY, they should be part of any back-to-school marketing. One project, it explains, saw music artist Saweetie collaborate with animator King Science for a series of TikToks to promote HP’s Spectre x360. Aimed at the college-bound audience, the promotion received millions of views in no time.


If Gen Z and Millennials have such deep interest in music and self-expression then there’s little wonder why they are so keen to explore their identity and their own voice through things like fashion, and through the brands they wear and use. Great-looking branding, a strong voice with relevance, and meaningful associations will allow brands to communicate effectively in an omnichannel way.


Of course, it doesn’t have to be a permanent change. B2S can be an ideal time for brands to experiment, and a chance to test-drive a more youthful persona. This could be through a limited edition B2S pack front, for example, with the potential of any customer approval data collected going on to inform any future rebranding projects down the road.


B2S offers seemingly endless opportunities for brands, from youthful packaging iterations to Tik Tok marketing campaigns, not to mention a growing seasonal sales event.


It’s all getting very hard to ignore – but then again, why would you want to?