Grading Back to School: The 4 Big Marketing Trends This Season

Each week this summer, FN is offering a roundup of essential news, data and analysis about the important back-to-school (BTS) selling season.

For our latest column, we look at four of the big trends in BTS marketing among major retailers and brands:


A recent survey from RetailMeNot found that retailers are 63% more likely to market to online shoppers this BTS season versus in-store shoppers; however, communications firm RRD encourages companies to utilize both print and digital marketing tactics. is adopting just such a varied approach this month. The e-commerce site created its first 36-page physical BTS catalog, which has been mailed to 500,000 existing customers who currently shop for kids’ products. The book, which features youngsters in head-to-toe looks, is meant to create excitement for the shopping season — and for its new children’s portal,, currently in the beta-testing phase. Shannon Rodriguez, director of children’s apparel and footwear, said there was another purpose as well: “As busy as families are, it allows them time to sit together and pick out some outfits and styles without the stress of running from store to store. So we thought it was more family engaging.”


It has been a growing trend in the advertising world for the past few seasons, to cast real-life families and customers in brand campaigns. But Rack Room has been at it for a while. The retailer launched its Real People Project back in 2016 and has subsequently featured its customers and their families in its seasonal campaigns, including for fall ’19. Though GMM and SVP Brian Burnett noted that for BTS, the family retail chain is focused solely on the kids. “It’s their chance to show everyone what the must-haves are for school,” he said. Similarly, GapKids also launched a seasonal ad campaign, called “Forward,” that stars real-life children ages 5 to 13 who are recognized for their talents in music and dance. The company said it wanted to “celebrate creative self-expression and the kids who are breaking boundaries.”

Rack Room Real Kids Back-to-school Campaign
Rack Room cast real kids in its back-to-school campaign.
CREDIT: Rack Room


‘Tis the (other) season for giving. As families head to the stores to stock up on BTS gear, brands and retailers are encouraging them to consider the less fortunate. In late July, Reebok launched a buy-one-give-one program on its website, through which shoppers can provide kids in underserved communities with a free set of sneakers. The brand said up to 5,000 pairs of shoes would be distributed to children at low-income schools that participate in BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success), Reebok’s global grassroots physical activity program. Meanwhile, Foot Locker continues its long-standing support for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America during BTS, by offering customers the chance to donate $1, $3, $5 or $10 in stores to support youth in local communities.

Reebok BOKS Kids School Program
Reebok’s BOKS program (Build Our Kids’ Success) aims to help children develop a love of fitness.
CREDIT: Reebok


Families will be bargain shopping more than ever this year, according to a report from Prosper Analytics & Research. After surveying more than 2,000 back-to-school shoppers age 18 and over, the company found that discount stores overtook online as the second biggest channel, with 50.1% expecting to shop at discounters. Major chains like Shoe Carnival and Famous Footwear are addressing that desire for deals by playing up promotions in the marketing, especially now that BTS shopping has hit its peak weeks. Both companies are advertising a “buy one get one half off” deal on shoes and accessories in stores and online, and Shoe Carnival is also offering a 15% off coupon specifically for online shoppers.

Check out more news about back-to-school:

Grading Back to School: The Truth About Spending + Shaq Helps Kids Get Equipped

Grading Back to School: BTS Shopping Dates & Early Sales Predictions

See which celebrity kids are the biggest trendsetters:

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