The back-to-school season is upon us, and as usual it brings with it two things: increased retail spending and inventive online ad campaigns.
Benjamin Franklin spoke true when he said, "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest," but at this time of year consumers have a slightly different kind of investment in mind. According to reports, parents with school-age children can expect to spend an average of $688 preparing their kids for the 2012-2013 school year. Yes, the back-to-school season is upon us, and as usual it brings with it two things: increased retail spending and inventive online ad campaigns.
The campaigns that follow get top marks for strategic ingenuity. So get out your notebook (electronic or ruled) and prepare for a crash course in creating great ads for fall.
Ralph Lauren and the RL Gang
Ralph Lauren first grabbed consumers' attention with its recurring "RL Gang" campaign in 2010, and the formula for this year's installment is very much the same: cast a handful of adorable kids as the RL Gang and follow them on their seasonal adventures. From a retail sales perspective, the strategy is shrewd: each "character" represents a different fashion style within the Ralph Lauren apparel collection (e.g., "Rocker," "Preppy," Casual-Cool"), encouraging parents to identify with the look that's best-suited to their own child…and shop accordingly.
What it can teach us: Consistency, and the value of brand personas. The expanding display ads that are running on sites like Huffington Post's HuffPost Parents (now the Family section of AOL.com) create a seamless experience with the Children's section of the Ralph Lauren site, where consumers can shop a "look" or explore the items in each character's "closet." This, coupled with the recurring RL Gang theme, makes the campaign highly memorable. The concept of creating unique personas for each of the different looks that can be achieved with Ralph Lauren apparel allows consumers to identify with the brand. This can create a deep brand affinity that can even result in a positive perception of the brand's other product lines.
Yoplait Trix Yogurt
If they aren't thinking about back-to-school clothes, parents are agonizing over what to feed their children before, during, and after class. Yoplait found a clever way to tap into this anxiety with its integrated display ad campaign on parenting site Babble.
Banners of multiple sizes placed in the "Kids" section of the site - which attracts parents of school-age children - along with the main blog page link to a series of blog posts about making healthy snacks using Yoplait Trix Yogurt. Recipes and tips for creating healthy snacks and treats (yogurt-dipped strawberries, anyone?) accompany personal stories from blogger parents who have used the product in inventive ways.
What it can teach us: Editorial content coupled with advertising can send a strong brand message. Integrated campaigns that combine product information with site content are effective because they provide value, not just a sales pitch. If consumers can be made to view a product or brand as a part of their lifestyle, they will be better able to relate to it and more likely to welcome it into their homes. If they see the brand making an effort to understand and simplify their lives - just as Yoplait has done with the help of a publisher's creative blog posts - then all the better.
Once parents have passed the test of what to give their kids for lunch, they must find a way to package it. This familiar aspect of school days is at the core of the Smucker's Uncrustables campaign on SheKnows.com. The brand is sponsoring the site's "Back to School" section with a page skin and various display ads, but the strength of this ad buy is once again in the content. The section offers a bounty of tips and tricks on "school food," whether it's frozen items that will thaw by lunchtime or items that are neat and easy to send with a child (sponsored advertiser Smucker's Uncrustubles fits easily into both of these categories).
What it can teach us: The best way to make your product memorable to consumers is by highlighting its distinguishing attributes. Tell them what makes it special and unique, but do it in way that doesn't sound like a sales pitch. By leveraging SheKnows content that's highly relevant to its product, Smucker's places itself at the forefront of consumers' minds. More importantly, consumers are seeing it in the ideal context: the very situation that the product is best suited for. To show consumers what your product can do, always showcase it in the environment that suits it best.
Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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