Clock icon 10 min read Calendar icon Aug 2, 2023

5 Back-to-School Marketing Ideas to Make the Grade this Season!


With school doors expected to swing open soon, back-to-school shopping is stepping into the retail spotlight! This shopping season, which runs from mid-July to mid-September, is the second most important retail period of the year. But with a 24% surge in school supply prices and a potential 10% dip in spending predicted by Deloitte, things are shaping up differently this year. It's not all doom and gloom, however. Retailers can take comfort in the knowledge that back-to-school shopping is historically resilient, as evidenced by last year’s surprisingly robust figures.

When it comes to back-to-school marketing, deals are becoming the new driving force for parents and students, with brand loyalty increasingly up for grabs. But price consideration isn’t the only factor. Millennial parents are influenced by narratives around inclusivity and sustainability when filling up their shopping carts – not to mention the digital-influenced preferences of their Generation Alpha children, the oldest of whom are now school-aged. A significant 70% are choosing products associated with their child’s favorite character or show, indicating that this generation already boasts its own influencers! For brands wanting to make the grade this back-to-school marketing season, successfully navigating these trends could make all the difference. So, get out your notebooks and keep that pencil sharpened as we share our back-to-school marketing ideas. 

After reviewing these ideas, check out our Guide to Back to School Marketing (including key BTS trends)

5 Back to School Marketing Ideas

 1. Start back-to-school marketing campaigns early – but don’t forget tardy shoppers

Approximately 56% of consumers began their shopping as early as July in 2022, per the National Retail Federation, with early starts expected this year too. This shift is driven by year-end budget planning, concerns over potential inventory delays, and the allure of early deals. But many shoppers also wait for last-minute and end-of-season offers. Brands and retailers can target early birds as well as latecomers by offering coupons for future school purchases, a tactic that not only enhances sales during the entire season but also promotes customer retention. Issuing digital receipts via email also helps gather customer information and expand email marketing lists – which will help amplify end-of-season campaigns.

2. Simplify the shopping experience for harried parents

The back-to-school rush can be a whirlwind for parents. Retailers can simplify this process by providing a simplified shopping experience, starting with helpful guides or checklists. These tools, like Target's online, zip code-searchable school supply lists, help parents ensure they've got everything covered and find items easily -- in-store or online. Enhancing the process with direct checkout options from these lists can turn browsers into buyers instantly. Additionally, back-to-school bundles are a hit, with almost half of shoppers in 2022 opting for pre-packaged supply kits for savings and convenience. Ranging from basic supplies to tech and sports gear, these bundles can help retailers move inventory, increase sales, and boost revenue.

3. Run special discounts & promotional events:

With school supply prices stretching family wallets, Deloitte’s recent survey finds a whopping 80% of them prefer mass merchants for their discounts, a third turn to off-price retailers and dollar stores, and 60% scour online offers. Brands and retailers will have to work harder than ever to stand out in this competitive, deal-driven space. Amazon, for example, is pulling out all the stops with its 2023 back-to-school marketing campaign that encourages parents to ‘spend less’ through its blowout discounts here are a few strategies to consider:

Targeted Promotions:

Brands can distinguish themselves by offering exclusive discounts to specific groups. Target, for example, caters to teachers preparing for the new academic year with its annual Teacher Prep Event, providing a tempting 15% off on select items. Tailoring deals to those with unique budget needs not only meets their requirements but can also set a brand apart.

Contests and Sweepstakes:

Who doesn't love the thrill of a contest, especially when high-value prizes like laptops, iPads, clothing, or retail gift cards are up for grabs? Adding an influencer and a promo code to the mix can supercharge the reach of this kind of campaign.

Danone CA - Program 1 - BTS Sweepstakes web

To boost sales during the crucial back-to-school season and ease parents' stress, Danone launched a strategic sweepstakes program with Snipp. Customers purchasing eligible Danone products could upload their receipts on a dedicated microsite for a chance to win one of five $12,000 grand prizes! 

Strategic Partnerships:

Not all brands sell typical back-to-school products. But that doesn't mean they can't leverage the season. By collaborating with retail stores, they can offer themed purchase incentives. Imagine a restaurant providing meal discounts with a back-to-school receipt - a win for parents and businesses alike!

4. Create a seamless, omnichannel buying experience – and maximize each channel:

Consumers are choosing to use a mix of channels to make sure their shopping trips are hassle-free and convenient. In fact, 53% of U.S. holiday shoppers last year verified product availability online before venturing to the store. So how can brands amplify this omnichannel experience? Customized online content, such as specialized microsites and landing pages for back-to-school essentials can enhance product visibility and serve as valuable resources. Social media is key too, with 35% of shoppers using it for shopping guidance -- and with 45% planning to hit brick-and-mortar department stores, retailers have a golden chance to create attention-grabbing back-to-school marketing displays in-store. Our advice? Cover the retail gamut, from ‘A’ to ‘Z’!

Kids footer locker store Back To School

Last year, Kids Foot Locker opened its first brick-and-mortar House of Play concept stores, crafted to engage millennial parents and their Gen Alpha kids in an interactive playground for the digital age. These stores feature an array of immersive experiences, including murals designed to help create TikTok- and Instagram-worthy experiences. 

5. Target Gen Z (and Gen Alpha) Socially, and Authentically:

With 80% of Gen Z having purchased a product found on social media, platforms like TikTok have become a back-to-school marketing campaign playground. Brands looking to make an impact must fine-tune their social SEO strategies with appropriate keywords, hashtags, and engaging content. But it's not just about visibility; it's also about representation. A Voxburner study revealed that 85% of Gen Z craves more diversity and inclusivity in advertising, and Gen Alpha has the same (if not greater) finely-tuned inclinations. Brands should take note of the fact that these school and college-goers aren't just consumers; they're digital natives who demand authentic engagement.

JCPenny_back to school campaign

JCPenney's 2023 back-to-school marketing campaign is bringing authenticity front and center, highlighting real kids from a fifth-grade class. The campaign underscores the retailer's commitment to showcasing that 'real life isn't glossy' and is intended as a larger conversation it plans to have with its customers.


Ikea is capturing Gen Z's attention on TikTok with a unique campaign featuring 'slice of life' anime clips. The campaign showcases how college students can conquer life's challenges with Ikea's storage solutions and also includes an online manga with diverse character bios. 

When it comes to this crucial spending season, it’s important to remember that even as households tighten their belts, back-to-school shopping remains a vital part of a family budget. To get ahead of the competition, brands must extend genuine savings, offer a seamless shopping experience, and craft a compelling narrative. And here’s one of the biggest lessons: the back-to-school season isn't a sprint; it's a marathon! It's a chance to build lasting customer relationships that can reap rewards year-round, so consider our suggestions to leave a lasting impression. Now, let's ring the bell on a successful back-to-school marketing season—class dismissed! 

To learn more about Back to School trends, marketing strategies, and BTS campaign examples, download our full Guide to Back to School Marketing here!