Mom Confidence: What Back to School Ads Really Sell

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:59 AM

With summer winding down, back-to-school advertising has come on full force. According to the National Retail Federation, $83 billion will be spent for back-to-school 2012, and the fight for those dollars has already begun. Retailers have been on air with messaging about new jeans, school supplies, and lunchbox fare for weeks. Brands have begun to release reminders that the choice of gluestick and even sticky-note matter…

describe the imageEven though a Yahoo webinar from April 2012 suggested that back-to-school advertisers should remember that back-to-school shopping isn’t all about moms (“23% of dads and 84% of teens say they're getting more involved in back-to-school shopping; 80% of those in charge of making back-to-school purchases say their children influence what's actually bought”), it seems that back-to-school ads are taking some typical approaches to tantalizing parent purchasers. Despite different approaches, most seem to adopt, as an underlying premise, that winning the back-to-school battle is all about instilling confidence in mom. Sure, you could do that by showing her how much she’ll save. But what fun would that be? Here’s how some of the most aired campaigns are making moms feel like she’s too cool for school…

  1. Reminding her that she was cool once…Beverly Hills 90210 might have found a new audience with this generation of teens, and Jenny Garth might even play a role, but none of their dramas will top that moment when Kelly Taylor faced the ultimate choice: Dylan McKay or Brandon Walsh? This moment is played out in Old Navy’s back-to-school advertising, perhaps to persuade mom shoppers that high school hasn’t changed. Or more likely, Old Navy has realized that their brand of tongue-in-cheek humor makes the mom shopper more comfortable, than, say, Abercrombie? Old Navy seems to be positioning itself as the place for parents to purchase, leaving the teen-with-a-wallet crowd to spend somewhere else. 
  2. Old people icons…And by old, we mean over 18…Target, once again, plays with the juxtaposition between cool and kitsch, high and low, high-style and highly practical that define their brands. In their back-to-school campaign, ordinary objects like rulers come together to form guitars…Back-to-school shopping takes on the event-like status of a Lady Gaga concert….And actors who would likely (hopefully) only be recognizable to parents are used in a commercial that could seemingly get kids bopping. The guy from Bridesmaids? Sure, he should be selling jeans to kids for back-to-school. But lest you think we don’t like this idea, let us be clear: Target (like Old Navy) is letting moms and dads in on the fun.
  3. Schoolhouse rock. Well before Glee, JC Penney had made school look like a Broadway show. Once again, advertisers seem to be softening the blow of returning to the books by re-imagining school as a stage. For parents, who perhaps fantasize about their children as confident, bubbly students, strutting and giggling through their days, these images might comfort. Will kids, tweens and teens buy-in? Payless has raced past the first day right to the fantasy field trip, with its spot (using a They Might Be Giants tune that might make parents wonder where they heard those voices before) that features frolicking kids who delight in dino exploration. There are no lines or rules for these happy-kids. And this seems to be just what parents have in mind as they purchase pants with reinforced knees, or hoodies that promise to hold up for the whole year.
  4. Mom’s make it better. In contrast with showing all of these confident kids, dancing their way through the classroom doors, 3M chooses another approach to instilling moms with the confidence that they can make back-to-school better. In their ad, a shy, sweet little girl tentatively scans her new class…It’s not until she opens her lunchbox to find a sticky-note of reassurance that she drops her shoulders and lets her grin spread.

Will their approaches work? It’s likely they’ll win a share of the back-to-school booty. But while it’s too soon to tell, we predict that they’re leaving some kid, tween and teen influenced purchases on the table.

Tags: Education, mom, shopping, fashion, parenting, school