Michelle Bitran
Head of Content @ Yotpo
July 19th, 2018

The Best Back-to-School eCommerce Marketing Campaigns

In a sea of back-to-school promotions, it’s the customer-driven campaigns that will stand out.

Table Of Contents

Kids might claim that they’re not looking forward to the school year, but they definitely have their eyes on that first-day outfit, a pristine knapsack, or even a new tablet.

And they’re the ones calling the shots: Of the $27.6 billion to be spent by U.S. back-to-school shoppers in 2018, about $21 billion will be influenced by children, according to a Deloitte survey.

best back-to-school ecommerce marketing campaigns

Since 23% of 2018 back-to-school spending will be online — mainly on clothing, school supplies, and electronics, in that order — eCommerce brands need to make sure they’re reaching the right audience (namely, students of all ages), with the right campaigns, at the right time (August is the major spending month).

With today’s kids raised on social media since they were in diapers, traditional marketing is a no-go. They’ll spot an ad on their Instagram feed from a mile away. That’s why the savviest brands have learned to use their authentic customer content to drive relatable ad campaigns that foster community, rather than preach the merits of a given product.

We’ve rounded up some of the top examples of back-to-school online marketing we’ve seen to give you inspiration for launching your own impactful, authentic campaigns.

1) Target’s “To School & Beyond” campaign gives kids the reins

Target hit the nail on the head with this video campaign completely created by kids. With back-to-school as the biggest revenue driver after the holiday season, the big-box retailer had a lot on the line. Instead of “playing it safe” and guessing what would appeal most to kids, they let their target audience and biggest fans run the show.

The result was a creative, authentic, highly shareable campaign that put Target’s money where its mouth is: Not only do they say they want the best for kids, they actually work to push real kids forward.

Pro Tip: Don’t shy away from getting straight to your customers, no matter their age. Kids relate best to other kids, so finding a way to spotlight the children who love your products is key.

2) Kleenex tackles back-to-school blues

Kleenex sponsored a feel-good social experiment for a class of real fifth graders who were anxious about the transition to middle school. The kids shared their concerns in their own words, and during the workshop, they prepared and exchanged Kleenex packs they decorated with heartfelt messages to their peers.

This campaign, later spread with the #ShareKleenexCare hashtag, is powerful because it tackled the feelings of real kids and authentically tied the product to the campaign story. Kleenex also used data to show how many children feel anxious at the beginning of the school year and how many felt better after participating in the experiment.

Pro Tip: Topics that feel “too real” are often the most important ones to explore. Being authentic means connecting emotionally with your customers, even when they’re not feeling their best. Making your customers feel understood and cared for is part of fostering a powerful brand community.

3) Society6 inspires college students with a shoppable #DormGoals lookbook

Society6 sells everything from prints to pillows and shower curtains — all designed by real artists. Instead of focusing on a single product typically associated with classrooms (like notebooks or laptop cases, for example), they built an ongoing campaign around dorm rooms, which incorporate tons of product options.

They offer site visitors shoppable lookbooks and videos organized by style inspiration, like “minimalist” and “adventurist.” This is not only a great way to appeal to different types of consumers and direct them straight to items they’ll love, but it also appeals to the most exciting part of college for many young students — living in and decorating their own place.

Pro Tip: Inspire your customers with content that shows you know what they like. Build a space that they can come back to for product discovery and to get and share new ideas. Meaningful and valuable content is one of the most effective ways to build a strong emotional connection with customers.

4) Crayola honors teachers and students with creativity

best back-to-school ecommerce marketing campaigns

Crayola’s #ThankATeacher campaign asks students to submit a colorful thank you note to their favorite teacher for the chance to be featured on a crayon box as well as win a monetary prize for them, their teacher, and their classroom.

On the submission page, there is a gallery of the notes that have already been submitted. Browsers can filter by teacher name, school name, and location to find entries from their communities and to draw inspiration. The beautiful, handmade notes add a human touch to the campaign, and prizes that benefit both student and teacher are an especially attractive incentive.

Pro Tip: Use your back-to-school campaign as an opportunity to support a good cause. Crayola drew attention to how much teachers pay out of pocket for classroom supplies and decor, giving students an opportunity to share their gratitude. A relevant and heartfelt cause makes shoppers feel good about buying from a brand.

5) Bando creates a year-round campaign that keeps learning top of mind

best back-to-school ecommerce marketing campaigns

So, this one isn’t strictly a back-to-school campaign — but it has an educational theme that perfectly suits a brand known for the cutest notebooks, day planners, and desk accessories in the biz. Instead of running a time-limited, predictable back-to-school campaign, Bando launched “Honor Roll,” a free advice series where the Bando community can ask and answer questions about all things related to business — from changing careers to starting your own company.

This forum allows their founder and other employees to share lessons learned and engage and grow the community in a meaningful way. The name Honor Roll keeps the classroom and Bando’s huge selection of beautiful stationary top of mind as participants enjoy valuable content curated to suit their interests.

Pro Tip: Think outside the box when it comes to engaging customers with products they might need for the new school year. Offer more than just a discount to reach your brand community in a genuine way, and ensure that your campaign is super relevant to your products.


Back-to-school shopping is a huge opportunity for brands that sell everything from apparel to electronics. But creating a standout back-to-school campaign isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Learn from the brands featured in this post and consider a campaign that:

  • Speaks directly to kids (remember, $21 billion in sales will be influenced by children!)
  • Tackles the realities of being a student
  • Is inspirational, and aspirational — the new school year is a time for new beginnings
  • Supports a good, relevant cause
  • Is more than just a time-limited promotion (consider if your products are a good fit for a year-round campaign focused on education or other topics related to school)
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