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Creative Best Practices for Gearing Up for Back to School 

There is no better time than now, when back-to-school shopping lists are top of mind for both students and parents, for retailers to engage decision-ready consumers and take full advantage of this marquee shopping event. 

As September approaches, the summertime sadness hanging over students pining for a longer break turns into an enthusiastic buzz toward the next chapter in their education. Crisp new planners, freshly sharpened pencils, and unblemished sneakers evoke nothing but nostalgia in working professionals, for whom back-to-school was once the shopping event of the year.

Each year, as students prepare for a new school term, the market sees a notable increase in activity. The National Retail Federation (NRF) backs this up with some recent figures, placing back-to-school spending at around $41.5 billion, a positive growth trajectory from the previous year’s $36.9 billion. And that doesn’t even consider college and university students who, according to NRF projections, will likely spend more than $94 billion this fall. 

All this to say, the 2023 back-to-school season promises a huge shopper turnout. But for your brand to stand out in the most memorable and effective way possible, you need more than an unbelievable offer or gobs of data. You need a stellar creative.

That’s why we’ve conducted an analysis of some of our favorite back-to-school creatives, providing you with the creative inspiration, tips, and tricks you need to make sure your campaign graduates with honors.

Tips to Ace your Back to School Marketing Strategy

As the back-to-school season approaches, many marketers turn to Programmatic Direct Mail (PDM) to bolster their campaigns. Here are our top three creative tips to optimize back-to-school marketing through PDM.

1. Balance Relevance with Flexibility

As of early July, over half of the consumers have already embarked on their shopping adventures. Yet, 85% still have significant shopping left. PDM increases your window of opportunity for purchases made in the home. Assets sent now, like postcard advertisements, will remain prominently placed on household counters and refrigerators for up to 17 days on average. 

That means you need to design a creative that is specific enough for the back-to-school season and flexible enough to fit the needs of different shoppers with different needs and purchase patterns.

Below, Shoe Carnival draws the eye with the yellow school bus, reminding forgetful parents that the return to school is just around the corner. The offers, the same big and bold yellow as the school bus, highlight multiple tiers of savings and multiple ways to redeem them. It also puts a spotlight on the wide variety of brands available. 

These small touches ensure that the creative will remain relevant throughout the season for families of various sizes, brand affinities, needs, and shopping behaviors.

School bus with back to school students walking with new sneakers

2. Keep the Kids In Mind

Remember, you’re not just targeting parents. Students also have a huge influence on back-to-school purchasing. After all, it’s the era of influencers, right? 

By including imagery that emulates the images students see on their social media, Levi’s creates a seemingly timely visualization of what is trending. 

In the example below, Levi’s draws in a younger generation with aspirational images of “kids like you”  acing their “back-to-school style assignment.” The layered polaroids create depth by showcasing various styles and personalities, making it feel more authentic than polished shots of obvious models. While not as prominent as the imagery, the offer is emphasized using a strong red band.

Polaroid pictures of young adults in jeans

3. Educate with QR Codes

While kids often “want what they want,” parents usually prioritize cost and value. For instance, by incorporating QR codes linking to deals and offers, your programmatic advertising direct mail can be a great validation and educational tool for in-market shoppers. After scanning the QR code, consumers can receive subsequent deals and offers based on their behaviors.

In the J Crew example below, consumers are encouraged to visit physical locations with an in-store special offer. And to make it easier for them to convert, J Crew includes a QR code that identifies the nearest store upon scanning.

Group of young students in back to school fall clothes

In another creative example below, Rothy’s aims to appeal to college students, who often pay for their clothes, by balancing style and sensibility. 

One image prominently displays the many sustainable, trendy styles yet to be tried on by college students in-store. However, the other side of the postcard explicitly shares a discount offer appealing to this age group with the promise of comfort, affordability, and sustainability. The QR code is a subtle nudge to learn more.

shoes displayed on ground and on foot of female with different styles

Embracing Back to School with PDM

The back-to-school season brings together hope, anticipation, and huge market potential. With consumers eager to spend but looking for value, marketers have a prime opportunity to stand out. Partnering with PDM can help you build an A+ back-to-school marketing strategy. To learn more about PebblePost’s services, head to our solutions page.

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