5 Back to School Campaigns to Help for 2020 Planning
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5 Back to School Campaigns to Help for 2020 Planning

by Phil Garbrecht | Aug 01, 2019

For retail brands, back-to-school planning starts long before it does for children and their families. In fact, though the 2019 school year has yet to begin for most of the country, marketers are already gathering ideas for back-to-school 2020 and we’re letting top retail brands guide us. The National Retail Federation released their 2019 back-to-school predictions, and their research projects $80.7B in spending, which works out to $40 more in spending for each consumer this year. Shoppers are ready for one of the biggest retail events of the year, and so far, brands are keeping pace with stand-out campaigns.

This year’s stand-out back-to-school campaigns demonstrate that marketers who lean into authentic experiences instead of crafting explicit advertisements are likely to better connect with consumers and, perhaps, build customers for life. 

Though trends and technology will certainly evolve over the next year, we’ve found enduring lessons from the following five leading retail brands. Bookmark these ads today and get a jump on your 2020 back-to-school campaign planning. And remember, if you're planning a back to school campaign — or any campaign for that matter — setting your KPIs first is a must. To learn which metrics really matter, just watch our webinar.

American Eagle

The teen clothing retailer competed with Amazon Prime Day this year by coordinating the release of their newest clothes line to steal the attention of online back-to-school clothes shoppers. On Amazon Prime Day, American Eagle launched their fall streetwear collaboration with Lil Wayne: the AE x Young Money collection. The spot features Lil Wayne performing during a dance party in a high school auditorium:

The soundtrack is just Lil Wayne’s music — no voice overs, no explicit clothing plugs, just excellent music paired with truly impressive dancers wearing the collection. The spot appears less like an advertisement and more like a video you might come across as you scroll through Instagram or bop around on YouTube looking at concert clips. We know younger generations don’t want to be explicitly sold to, though they do like being made aware of the products they’d be interested in, and this campaign from American Eagle hits all the right notes.


The mega-retailer plays up how “big” going back to school can feel in their 2019 campaign. In the ad, a mother uses Walmart’s mobile app to search for school clothes which she then sees on a giant child outside her window. Other giant young children are shown modeling Walmart’s back-to-school clothing and accessories:

What makes this ad work so well is the way Walmart highlights their offerings — their easy-to-use mobile app and affordable items — in an eye-catching, entertaining way. But most of all, the ad helps viewers feel truly connected to the brand — back-to-school does feel big for many families, whether it’s the schedule change or the emotional impact, and a brand that helps families feel understood is a brand that’s going to stick in their minds.


In their 2019 back-to-school campaign, Macy’s capitalizes on the excitement of a fresh start by pairing their clothing and accessories with the song “All Brand New” by the Danger Twins:

As with American Eagle’s Lil Wayne concert, Macy’s does a great job of letting their clothes and accessories speak for themselves. Active, dancing kids model the clothing, but there’s no overt, stale prompts to purchase anything. Again, this could be a video you’d choose to watch on your feed and in today’s retail environment, that makes it a success.


Though H-E-B is a regional grocery store, it’s one of the top 20 retailers in the United States, and during this year’s 2019 back-to-school season, they’re reminding shoppers that they carry a wide variety of school supplies, too. Their ad features a role-swap for children and adults in which children encourage their parents to shop at H-E-B for this year’s supplies:

The relatable, adorably-delivered message here for all brands is to think outside the box: even if your brand is back-to-school adjacent, you can still capitalize on the late-summer flurry of retail activity.


In honor of back-to-school 2019, Staples is offering parents and families a way to connect with their child’s teacher before classes even begin:

What works so well about this campaign is the emotional value Staples is offering families: yes, certainly it’s a call to shop at Staples, but it’s also offering families a way to feel good about their purchases and pay it forward. This ad is poised to make a lasting impression on back-to-school shoppers: getting all the supplies your child needs for the school year while also supporting their teachers is something everyone can feel good about.

Bonus: Staples is also running a campaign on Instagram and Twitter called #ThankATeacher that promotes audience interaction and lasting positive sentiment about the brand. All entrants have to do is include #ThankATeacher, #Sweepstakes, and @StaplesStores and thank an inspirational teacher in their lives or the lives of their children. The winner receives $10K in Staples gift cards for their school, and there’s no purchase necessary — definitely a value-add for @StaplesStores community members.

Though ad campaign trends change and evolve over time, the lessons of authentically connecting with your customers and offering value to them beyond your products or services are enduring. If you're ready to start planning your next campaign, watch our webinar to learn about key metrics.

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