Advertising: Back-to-School Shopping Campaigns, Already?

Advertising: Back-to-School Shopping Campaigns, Already?

ALTHOUGH tens of millions of children have not finished the school year, Madison Avenue is already feverishly getting ready for the next one.

Such front-running of seasonal milestones should no longer be surprising, given how marketers, retailers and media companies have been time-shifting the calendar to stimulate business related to holidays both official (Christmas) and unofficial (Super Bowl Sunday). Still, it may startle students when they see advertising asking them to buy clothing, school supplies and other merchandise for 2013-14 while they await final grades for 2012-13.

The tenuous state of the economy is a major reason for the earlier arrival of back-to-school campaigns. The goal is to encourage purchases now because of uncertainty over what the future may bring.

“Customers in this environment are looking for value, quality at a great price,” said Bob Moore, executive vice president for marketing and merchandising at Office Depot in Boca Raton, Fla.

Because there is also “a fashion element” to back-to-school shopping, he added, likening the first day of school to walking the runway, shoppers look additionally for “a little bit of extra flair.”

To that end, Office Depot is uniting with the boy band One Direction for a back-to-school campaign that will include an antibullying initiative carrying the theme “Live. Love. Move” — as in “Live kind. Love everyone. Move together against bullying.” This is the second consecutive year that Office Depot will devote its back-to-school promotion to fighting bullying among children. Last summer, the retailer teamed with the Born This Way Foundation, founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta.

“This year, we want to take it to the next level,” Mr. Moore said. For instance, the 50 to 60 products like notebooks, binders and decals to be sold as part of the campaign will feature images of the five members of One Direction, separately and together, with messages that include “Live nice” and “Being true is being brave.” The merchandise sold last year was emblazoned with slogans without Gaga imagery.

The coming campaign, called “1D + OD Together Against Bullying,” has a budget estimated at $10 million and includes videos, digital ads, content on the Office Depot Web site, displays in stores and an Office Depot sponsorship of the One Direction North American summer tour.

Office Depot and One Direction, through the band’s representative, Modest Management, were brought together by Scott Woodward, chief executive and chief creative officer at SEW Branded in New York, a marketing consultancy.

“What we loved about the Office Depot partnership is that it’s a direct cause-marketing partnership instead of a commercial brand push,” said Jane Kennedy, head of licensing and partnership at Modest Management in London. “And the cause struck a chord because the boys are ages 19 to 21.”

“We have back-to-school here in the U.K. as well, but it’s mainly advertising for school uniforms and backpacks,” she added. “I would say it’s bigger in the States.”

Teen Vogue magazine, published by the Condé Nast division of Advance Publications, sought last year to make back-to-school even bigger with an elaborate promotion to turn the second Saturday in August into a national shopping day. The event on Aug. 11, 2012, called Back-to-School Saturday, was deemed popular enough to bring back this year, on Saturday, Aug. 10, with additional elements that include a special Web site,

“Absolutely, it was a success, bigger and better than what we’d expected for Year One,” said Jason Wagenheim, vice president and publisher of Teen Vogue in New York. “We intend to carry this on for a long time.”

“We expect to have more than 50 brands taking part,” he added, compared with 43 in 2012. Some of last year’s participants are increasing their presence; for instance, Procter & Gamble will have seven brands involved compared with four. Among the newcomers are Garnier, Keds, Macy’s, Revlon, Simon Malls and Toyota.

“The notion of galvanizing everyone for a social event around shopping is awesome,” said Rick Blackshaw, president for Keds in Lexington, Mass., part of Wolverine Worldwide.

“The back-to-school period, like Black Friday, is super important to us,” he added. “Back-to-school is the biggest time of year that a girl shops for casual athletic footwear.” During Back-to-School Saturday, Keds will promote new shoes like the Rookie Loop De Loop and a Keds apparel line, introduced last month, available in 150 Macy’s stores.

In a bit of marketing synchronicity, not only has Macy’s recently started selling the Keds-branded clothing, in March the retailer introduced a line of apparel bearing the Teen Vogue brand.

“The millennial target is so important to us,” said Martine Reardon, chief marketing officer at Macy’s in New York, part of Macy’s Inc., referring to shoppers in their teens through about age 30. “We want to make sure we’re creating events they feel are for them, not necessarily for their mothers and grandmothers.”

Although the retail calendar is already crowded with events and holiday-themed promotions, “what the customer has been telling is that she likes the defined times” to shop, Ms. Reardon added. So a Back-to-School Saturday is a welcome addition — particularly if, as Teen Vogue is promising, “it will be very social and mobile driven” with content on Twitter, where the magazine will revive a hashtag, #BTSS, and offer a Teen Vogue Insider app for mobile devices.