back-to-school campaigns - cover image - playable

How to create outstanding back-to-school campaigns that drive results

We’ve got you covered with all the essential information and creative ideas you need to make your back-to-school campaigns a resounding success in 2024.

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on creating killer back-to-school campaigns! Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or just starting out, we have got you covered with all the essential information and creative ideas you need to make your back-to-school campaigns a resounding success. From valuable insights and stats to creative ideas, we’ll explore the key elements that will help you engage your audience, collect valuable data, boost sales, and create memorable experiences this upcoming back-to-school season. 

Get ready to take your back-to-school campaigns to the next level and leave a lasting impression on students, parents, and educators alike. But first, let’s start by taking a look at important back-to-school stats and facts marketers should know!

Back-to-school campaign facts marketers should know

Below are some of the most important facts marketers should know about back-to-school, including pro tips for each of these trends!

When do people start their Back-to-school shopping?

“The school year may have just ended, but one-quarter of back-to-school and back-to-college shoppers are already getting ready to start school in the fall.” – National Retail Federation

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the timing of back-to-school shopping. Traditionally, August was the peak period for back-to-school shopping, but since 2021, families have started shopping earlier. Some even begin as early as June. 

According to the American Retail Federation , 26% of Americans start their back-to-school shopping in June, and 51% are planning to start their shopping in early July. Moreover, surprisingly, 18% will already have completed their shopping by the end of July.

This change can be attributed to two major factors: the Covid-19 pandemic and the Suez Canal incident in 2022. Due to the pandemic and the Suez Canal blockage, many items faced prolonged shortages the previous summers as a result of distribution challenges. Therefore, families became concerned that waiting until the last minute might lead to unavailability. Hence, they have adjusted their shopping habits by starting earlier. 

This emphasizes the urgency for marketers to kickstart their back-to-school campaigns without delay and earlier than they used to.

What do people buy for Back-to-school and Back-to-College?

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, electronics dominate the list of most purchased items, followed by clothing and accessories, and shoes. In the electronics category, laptops, calculators, tablets, accessories, and speakers were the most sought-after items.

For back-to-college shopping, electronics maintain their position as the top category, significantly ahead of others. The second and third most popular categories are dorm and apartment furnishings, followed by clothing and accessories. The key electronics items include laptops, tablets, accessories, calculators, and printers. 

Other essential necessities for both back-to-school and back-to-college include notebooks, pencils, pencil cases, erasers, and more.

To create successful back-to-school campaigns, it’s essential to promote items and merchandise that are considered must-haves for students and families.

Where do people shop for back-to-school?

Unsurprisingly, online shops have emerged as the top destination for back-to-school and back-to-college shopping with 43% saying they planned to shop online in 2023.

In terms of physical shopping locations, the top four destinations for back-to-school shopping are department stores (36%), discount stores (29%), office supply stores (27%), college bookstores (27%). 

In other words, if you want to succeed with your back-to-school marketing efforts, it’s essential to create online campaigns, or omnichannel campaigns encouraging online shoppers to visit your stores. 

The current inflation crisis and back-to-school campaigns

An important factor to also consider in 2023 is the ongoing inflation. Prices are skyrocketing, and families worldwide are struggling to adhere to their budgets. For example, inflation is still at 8.7% in the UK for a second month in a row. This means that now, more than ever, families will be actively seeking discounts, deals, and affordable payment plans. 

As a result, retail experts are expecting that sales and discounts will have a big impact on back-to-school campaigns this year, as 72% of the general population are worried about the current economic climate and 88% of Americans are expecting higher prices on back-to-school items than the earlier years, and they emphasis how they will use different strategies to find good prices such as comparing prices online, shopping for sales, using brand/generic products, and using coupons. Mintel also estimated that 46% of UK parents have bought items using a payment scheme (eg. buy-now-pay-later) in 2023. But that doesn’t mean they want to cut on quality, as 73% of them think it is worth paying more for high-quality products.

As marketers, we need to acknowledge this in our back-to-school campaigns and put an emphasis on discounts, deals, promotions, and contests.  

Back to school campaign ideas for different purposes 

In the upcoming section, we will present diverse examples and creative back-to-school campaign ideas, catering to various marketing objectives. These include strategies for acquiring marketing permissions, engaging your target audience, gathering zero-party data, and driving sales growth.

1. Collect marketing permissions

Back-to-school campaigns are an excellent opportunity for marketers to collect marketing permissions from their target audience. By offering exclusive and engaging back-to-school playable campaigns, in exchange for email subscriptions or opt-ins, marketers can build a permission-based marketing list to nurture relationships and deliver tailored messaging to potential customers.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to maximize your efforts by sending your new opt-ins exclusive offers through back-to-school email campaigns.  

1.1 Scratchcard 

A fantastic method for collecting marketing permissions is by incorporating a luck game, such as a scratchcard to your back-to-school campaigns. Scratchcards are exciting and engaging while being quick and effortless to play. So, if your goal is to gather email addresses and permissions, this approach is an excellent choice.

For example, Manuscript, the global brand specializing in calligraphy and stationery products, had a fun back-to-school scratchcard campaign where participants could win one of 25 instant prizes or a bundle worth £100. This was a great way for them to collect new marketing permissions!

Manuscript back-to-school campaign with Playable

1.2 Slice It!

For even greater engagement, you can use a Skill game instead of a Luck game to collect marketing permissions in your back-to-school marketing campaigns. An idea would be to use a Skill game like Slice It, having students slash their homeworks while avoiding to slash their new school items for example.  

Pro Tip: To optimize your results, you can place the registration form after the game, allowing players to dive into the action first, get hooked, and then willingly provide marketing permissions before discovering their official scores and leaderboard ranking. 

Want to try a Slice It game?

Slice it game - Playable experience

2. Engage your audience 

Back-to-school campaigns also offer marketers a prime opportunity to engage their audience by capitalizing on the enthusiasm and anticipation surrounding the new school year. 

By creating enjoyable and engaging online experiences, marketers can cultivate higher brand recognition and foster customer loyalty. Sometimes, it’s the simple act of providing fun and engaging content that resonates most with the audience, going beyond traditional marketing campaigns to build lasting connections.

2.1 Drop game

As mentioned before, Skill games are highly effective for engaging your audience. So, if your primary goal is engagement, then a Skill game, such as a Drop game, is the way to go.

Pro Tip: If your aim is to engage your audience, consider placing the registration form at the end of the playable campaign rather than at the beginning, or not having one at all. 

Aarhus Gymnasium, a Danish college, successfully engaged their audience with their “Ready for School?” campaign. They implemented a captivating Drop game, challenging participants to catch school supplies in their school bags while avoiding bacteria and banana peels. This playable campaign not only entertained their audience, students, but also created a memorable connection with the college.

Aarhus Gymnasium back-to-school campaign with Playable

2.2 Guess the word 

Another effective method to engage your audience is by incorporating a knowledge game, such as a Guess the word game. In this back-to-school campaign, participants could be tasked with guessing specific words related to school items or any other school-themed vocabulary. This back to school campaign idea not only encourages active participation but also creates a sense of excitement and challenge, fostering a deeper engagement with your audience.

Want to try a Guess the word game?

Guess the word game example - Playable

3. Collect zero-party data 

Back-to-school campaigns also present a valuable opportunity for marketers to collect zero-party data by offering incentives such as exclusive discounts or personalized insights in exchange for voluntary sharing information with your brand.

3.1 Personality test 

For instance, marketers can leverage personality tests in their back-to-school campaigns, like “What type of student are you?” or “Find your back-to-school style!” to collect valuable data about their target audience while providing personalized insights to participants.

Pro Tip: Utilize the collected data to send tailored offers through back-to-school email campaigns, maximizing the impact of your marketing efforts.

For example, Victoria University of Wellington designed an engaging Personality test to assist students in discovering their ideal field of study. This playable campaign not only provided the university with valuable insights about potential students but also helped participants identify the programs that best suited their interests and abilities. In other words, it was a win-win both for the university and the students. 

Back-to-school campaign example. - Victoria University of Wellington - Personality test
Back-to-school campaign example. - Victoria University of Wellington - Personality test

3.2 Swipe It!

Another entertaining method for collecting zero-party data through a back-to-school campaign is by utilizing a Swipe It game. In this playable experience, participants swipe left or right to indicate their preferences on various images, allowing marketers to gather valuable insights about their audience’s likes and dislikes, whether it’s their preferred brands for back-to-school outfits or desired student programs. 

Want to try a Swipe It game? 

4. Boost sales

Finally, creating back-to-school campaigns with the purpose of boosting sales can be straightforward and effective when using gamification. By incorporating luck or skill games and offering discounts on school items as rewards, marketers can drive engagement and boost sales. However, there are certain games that can lead to even greater results, as outlined below.

4.1 Product Recommender 

A highly effective strategy to boost sales in a back-to-school campaign is to use a product recommender, such as “What computer is best for your study?” or “Which sneakers should you wear on your first school day?”.

Pro Tip: Use the data collected through these playable campaigns to fuel your back-to-school email and retargeting social media campaigns, promoting the recommended products and driving sales.

For example, a beauty brand could take the back-to-school – or college – opportunity to help their target audience find the best moisturizer, or foundation, to have the perfect skin on the first day of class. 

Beauté Pacifique, a Danish beauty brand, used product recommenders to assist their audience in discovering the ideal face mask or peeling for their skin. Although this campaign was not specifically designed as a back-to-school campaign, the copy could be easily adjusted to serve that purpose.

Beauté Pacifique - back-to-school campaigns example
Beauté Pacifique - back-to-school campaigns example

4.2 Memory game 

Another engaging playable experience that can effectively boost back-to-school sales is a Memory game. By showcasing discounted or back-to-school items behind the memory cards and offering discount codes to those who successfully complete the game within a specified time, you can create an enjoyable experience that encourages sales.

Do you want to try a Memory game? 

Memory game - Games library - Playable

Ready to create successful back-to-school campaigns? 

We hope this article has provided valuable insights into how you can leverage playable marketing for your back-to-school campaigns. We firmly believe that incorporating gamification into your campaigns is the key to achieving success. But, of course, you must keep in mind the last back-to-school stats and facts as well!

If you require assistance in creating effective playable campaigns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your customer success manager or reach out to our chat support. If you’re not yet a customer, we invite you to book a demo, and our dedicated team will be delighted to assist you. Let’s make your back-to-school campaigns an engaging and successful experience in 2024!