An email dings your inbox. The ask? Your boss wants you to lead the charge on a new back-to-school campaign. It needs to be “fresh and poppy,” have Gen Z appeal, and increase sales by 5%. It also must produce enough video and photography content for seamless marketing across dozens of channels, all while keeping customers engaged and your boss beaming.
You? Overwhelmed. How will you accomplish this Herculean task? What creative approach should your agency take—and how will you direct it?
Compare & contrast
First, study your competitors (and make sure your agency partners do, too). What do their brands look like? Are they doing anything the same—or better? How about worse? Playing design sleuth identifies opportunities to visually differentiate your campaign and make it memorable and top-of-mind for your customers.
Is your competitor using outdated, inauthentic stock photography? Do a photoshoot so yours is fresh. Are they using an obvious primary color palette? Go neon. Are they still using Comic Sans? Don’t use Comic Sans. Never use Comic Sans. Ever.
And here’s the bonus: When design ideas are rooted in this kind of research, you can feel confident approving them. Plus, it gives you rationale to get your boss’s buy-in. Double bonus.
Talk to two
Back-to-school is unique in the sense that your agency is designing for two different audiences—with opposing interests—at the same time. I’m talking about a parent (usually Mom) and the student (let’s call him Johnny.) It goes without saying that each will engage with your campaign differently.
We know Mom cares about value when it comes to back-to-school shopping. How should this inform your campaign’s design approach? First, make sure your type screams savings. Include easily legible price points and a special hierarchy for promotional offers. If this makes you cringe, don’t worry. Remember, you are partnering with creatives who should be able to balance all of your company’s needs and still execute a rad design. This is what they went to school for!
This Old Navy back-to-school BOGO offer is the first thing to catch your eye—followed by a clear, high-contrast code that is ADA compliant and mobile friendly.
And then there’s Johnny. He likes cool brands. Or more importantly, brands he thinks will make him look cool. Go for hip, authentic photography. How can you help your agency achieve the look you need during the photoshoot? Work with the art director to find talented photographers who push boundaries and stay on top of trends. Hire wardrobe stylists who know how to dress for school. And critically, select the right models. According to Viacom, “today’s teens are unapologetically themselves. So, for them, beauty is about freedom of individuality, authenticity, and diversity.” This means models of all shapes, sizes, races, and abilities.
These Target models are an authentic reflection of Gen Z.
It takes more than simply looking different from your competitors to make your campaign stand out. After all, back-to-school is an $82 billion dollar business, with many brands competing for limited attention. Think of the visual clutter your audience (Mom) gets in her mailbox daily. Piles of plain, white envelopes. Reams of busy, poorly designed circulars. What makes her want to look at your communication?
There is a lot of visual noise when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Do something unique to stand out.
Be brave. Maybe you and your agency can try a cool printing technique like a spot color or foil stamp. Or maybe it’s a unique feeling, tactile paper. And if your boss raises concerns (“It’s too expensive”), assure her it doesn’t have to be. A two-color run with Pantone inks and a spot varnish will likely cost the same, if not less, than your typical digital print press run. Now Mom is looking at your ad!
Interesting print techniques like foil stamps or neon inks help your print piece attract attention. Photo credit
You’ve visually differentiated your campaign. You’ve applied cool print techniques. You’ve appealed to both Mom and Johnny with legible price points, easy-to-read offers, and hip photography. What’s left? Capturing omnichannel content. How do you accomplish the hero shot you need for your vertical print ad and make it work for a horizontal website banner, an Instagram story, and a Facebook paid ad?
Plan, plan, plan. Pre-production is critical. Work hand in hand with your agency so you’re both crystal clear on the assets you need and the unique specifications for each of your marketing channels. Rely on your producer’s experience when planning the shot schedule; the crew will need more time on set to capture all of your different angles, crops, and vignettes. Make sure you vibe with your art director’s vision. Do this and you can feel confident in the approach when shoot day arrives—knowing everything will get captured on time, on budget, and on brand.
Lastly, trust your crew. Encourage your art director, photographer, and stylist to work together during downtime to capture extra content. You’ll be surprised at what they come up with that wasn’t a part of the original shot list, and it could be a perfect option for your next organic Instagram post (or something even bigger). Plus, these cherry-on-top shots surprise and delight your customers. Now your boss is beaming, and so are you.