Shifting focus for back to school

Brands including Best Buy, Walmart and Staples Canada are targeting kids as they head back to the books this fall.

School’s in, and Canadian retailers have done their homework. Many back-to-school offerings this fall are not just student-targeted, they’re also student-populated – and parents, for the most part, are conspicuously absent from the creative.

Staples Canada, for one, kicked off its back-to-school program on Aug. 1 with a new take on its classic “Reluctant” TV commercial, which first aired in 2009 and showed a jubilant father shopping the aisles to an adaptation of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The new spot, with media by MediaCom and creative by MacLaren McCann, ditches dad for celeb Heather Morris (Brittany on Glee). Morris shops for school supplies with a gaggle of Staples employees dancing around her, breaking into a Nationals-calibre routine at the end of the spot.

The ad is reaching out to a new student market for the brand, aged 13 to 24, says Staples Canada director of advertising Sandy Salmon. “We’re not always the first choice for the teen crowd,” she says.

Salmon says research showed that parents aren’t always thrilled to see their kids go off to school, just as students are often excited to be returning to school – so portraying that time as exciting appeals more accurately to both audiences.

Meanwhile, Future Shop’s “Be Everywhere” campaign marks a new direction for the retailer, targeting first-year university students instead of parents, who have traditionally been the focus for back-to-school.

“We wanted to flip it on its head and really go after the students as they have more influence than ever before,” Future Shop director of marketing Nikki Hellyer says.

The campaign, with media by Media Experts and creative by Cossette, includes a national TV commercial, in-store POP, in-store magazine, cinema spot, on-campus engagement, OOH and a strong online and social media component – and is meant to attract both student influencers and parent buyers.

Philippe Garneau, president and ECD at GWP Brand Engineering, sees a welcome shift from parental relief and escorted shopping trips to representing students making autonomous choices about what brands they buy.

“Young people are the influencers,” he says. “It’s time to get rid of the babysitter in the ads.”

The shift is smart, Garneau says, because it recognizes that teens and 20-somethings are a growing market for back-to-school and beyond. Retailers are therefore devising strategies that make their store a hip destination to seed future business from this generation without alienating the older one.

Best Buy Canada has always segmented its back-to-school marketing by targeting parents and students, says director of marketing Aliya Kara. Its fall back-to-school campaign, with media by Media Experts and radio and TV creative by CP+B, was split between parent-directed elements, such as radio, and student-targeted pieces like a Facebook contest and a Geek Squad presence on campuses. A national commercial, with Best Buy employees on the backs of students who are toting their new techno devices around campus, is aimed at students aged 18 to 24 as well as parents.

And Walmart Canada aired its national “Connected” commercial, with media by Mindshare and creative by JWT, which showed a university student equipped with a new laptop and other techno gadgets. But mom’s not completely missing: she appears on her daughter’s screen thanks to a new web cam purchased with cash saved from the shopping trip.

The brand directs its back-to-school mass media communications mainly at moms, says Walmart Canada director of media Toni Fanson, but since it recognizes that electronic buys are purchased collaboratively between parents and their kids, it’s not targeting moms as the primary purchasers as it has in the past.

In other words, mom may be buying, but junior’s got the power.