gear up for back-to-school spending
July 21, 2008
We're still in the heat of summer, but retailers are
already trying to put families in a back-to-school frame
of mind with a blitz of marketing.
Wal-Mart Stores, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Staples are
among the businesses playing up their school-oriented
offerings with new ad campaigns, in-store displays and
unique price promotions.
Retail behemoth Wal-Mart is appealing to tweens and
teens with ads that feature fictional singing star
Hannah Montana (the Disney alter ego of Miley Cyrus).
It's also targeting parents — mindful that the economy
has many families feeling pinched — with a "Do the Math"
theme that touts school-supply savings.
A lot is on the line for stores. Back-to-school is
Wal-Mart's — and many other retailers' — second-biggest
selling season after the winter holidays.
Spending this year on students in kindergarten through
12th grade should be a bit more robust than college
back-to-school spending, says Mike Gatti, executive
director of the National Retail Federation trade group's
Retail, Advertising and Marketing Association.
The reason: Many moms and dads, who typically foot more
or all of the bill for younger kids, are armed with
federal stimulus rebate money.
"Parents are saving those rebate checks," Gatti says.
"They know they have some big purchases" to make, such
as clothes and computers.
Yet, even with extra cash in hand, Gatti says, parents
will be sensitive about price. "This is definitely going
to be a challenging year" for retailers — and incredibly
competitive, he says. In addition to playing up
discounts, look for marketers "to do some
attention-grabbing stuff" to lure buyers.
How retailers hope to make the grade:
•Helping folks pinch pennies. Stores that sell school
supplies are offering a slew of "1-cent" deals. Office
Depot is advertising penny specials on "core
back-to-school products," such as two-pocket folders,
rulers and protractors, says spokesman Jason Shockley.
"It's a tough economy, and this (provides) good value
for students, parents and teachers."
OfficeMax also has a "penny offer" that includes single
items such as glue or a compass for a penny. And Staples
has offered 1-cent deals on pencils, folders and even
hand sanitizer — which now is on many supply lists given
to students by schools, says Staples spokeswoman Amy
•Tapping into nostalgia. Last week, J.C. Penney launched
a TV and cinema ad that plays off the 1985 teen-angst
movie The Breakfast Club. "We knew parents would relate
to it," says Chief Marketing Officer Mike Boylson. The
ad also has a twist for today's tweens and teens: a
remixed version of Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About
Me) from The Breakfast Club's soundtrack.
The new song, more upbeat than the original, is by group
New Found Glory. "What's old is new again," he says.
"Kids are rediscovering music from the '70s and '80s."
•Integrating products into TV programs. Sears teamed
with MTV on a made-for-TV movie, The American Mall,which
airs Aug. 11. The music-oriented show, which will
include shots of Sears stores and fashions, follows a
group of 18- to 20-year-olds who work in a mall over the
summer before they go to college.
•Tying in with teen and tween icons. Kohl's
back-to-school marketing features musical artists,
including Avril Lavigne and Plain White T's. Sears'
advertising, separate from The American Mall, will
feature Vanessa Hudgens, who plays Gabriella Montez in
Disney's hot High School Musical franchise.
Wal-Mart has Miley Cyrus as Disney's Hannah Montana
featured in TV commercials and in-store signs. Wal-Mart
is also giving out free 3-D glasses for kids — and
adults — to wear during the movie Hannah Montana & Miley
Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert 3-D on the Disney
Channel on Saturday.
On Thursday, Wal-Mart will launch HannahMontanaCalls.com,
where folks can sign up to receive prerecorded messages
from Hannah Montana, including wake-up calls for sleepy
May the force be with them.
The Ad Team has OD'd on showings of the Star Wars
series, so we wondered how Spike TV, which has a new
six-year deal to air the space saga, would draw viewers.
The guys' network and ad agency Mother surprised us with
outrageously original promo ads showing how Star Wars is
"an invaluable resource for man knowledge."
Darth Vader is featured in new ads for Spike TV's
planned airings of the Star Wars film series.
TV spots and Web videos have characters such as Darth
Vader, Boba Fett and the creepy "sand people" surviving
(and thriving) in everyday settings.
In one ad, Vader uses mental power to sink an errant
golf putt. When a rival calls that cheating, Vader uses
the force to choke him. "Competition can bring out a
guy's dark side."
Let the games begin.
With the Beijing Olympics less than two weeks away, NBC
Universal today will announce it has sold 90% of its ad
inventory. NBC's revenue target for the 2008 Games was
north of $1 billion, and sales are on pace to "shatter"
records from past Olympics, crows Seth Winter, senior
vice president, NBC Sports & Olympics. "Live sports
continue to resonate with viewers. Advertisers know the
Olympics are one of the best ways to reach an engaged,
NBC plans 3,600 hours of coverage on the seven NBC
Universal networks and NBCOlympics.com, 1,000 hours more
than the U.S. average for previous televised Summer
Organic apples are one thing, but organic apple candy?
It's one of the new flavors for Hillside Candy's
GoNaturally organic hard candy line. Now-trendy-to-eat
pomegranate is the other, joining honey lemon, cherry
and honey ($2.79 per 3.5-ounce bag).
For organic lovers who want something more filling, San
Francisco inventor Sean O'Connor's "Batter Blaster" is
now on supermarket shelves. It's 18 ounces of organic
pancake or waffle batter in an eco-friendly pressurized
can made with no ozone-depleting CFCs and recyclable
steel. Slogan: "Just point, blast and cook!"
The Ad Team is waiting for an organic Twinkie, but
thanks to Wall-E, we know it's centuries away.
My bologna has a first name.
Reality-show producer Mark Burnett (Survivor) has in the
works an ad-jingle-writing and -singing show that may
air on CBS. Can it revive jingle writing, a dying art on
Madison Avenue, as advertisers opt for real and faux pop
On the roster of judges lined up for the competition: ad
agency CEO Linda Kaplan Thaler (who wrote the I'm a Toys
R Us Kid ditty), former Kiss rocker Gene Simmons and
marketer Julie Roehm, known for trying to sell Dodges
with lingerie and for being very publicly fired by
Wal-Mart in 2006. CBS would not say if advertisers will
pay to be part of the competition assignments as they
did for Burnett's The Apprentice.
The Denny's Dome.
Weary of fast-food giants eating its lunch at breakfast,
Denny's is fighting back with "B-FAST 2GO" takeout
breakfasts sold in "Denny's Domes," a specially designed
lid, plate and base with ventilated areas to keep hash
browns crisp and eggs moist. While made of the
polystyrene typical for clamshell takeout containers,
Denny executives say the domes are eco-friendly.
"Consumers also care about the environment, as we do,"
says Chief Operating Officer Janis Emplit. Her green
math: It's recyclable, and because it does the work of
two large clamshells normally needed to tote a full
breakfast, the dome "actually used less polystyrene."
DQ merit badge.
Dairy Queen says sales of the Girl Scout Thin Mints
Blizzard, out in June, are on track for 10 million by
the end of July, the fastest flavor launch since mix-ins
made their debut in 1985. Thin Mint Blizzards ($2.75 for
12 ounces, $3.65 for 21) include crme de menthe-flavored
syrup, with vanilla soft-serve and cookie bits. The
cookies are the real deal: DQ paid an undisclosed fee to
the Girl Scouts, and a supplier crushes Thin Mints for
DQ's 4,625 stores.