Back to school is a big business, with nearly $69 billion in sales at stake. That makes it the second-biggest selling season next to the winter holidays, as well as a huge marketing period for brands and retailers.
But despite the fact that apparel, shoes and school supplies are must-buys for the majority of students, those categories had a poor showing when it came to the season's top TV ads. Only JC Penney's "Pennies from Heaven" cause campaign and Crayola landed on Ace Metrix's list of top back-to-school ads. Instead, technology brands such as Microsoft and Dell and retailers such as Best Buy dominated the list. Even one of the top Walmart ads focused on technology, promoting a smartphone.
"Retailers go into announcement mode, and for the most part those don't resonate well. Retailers aren't developing [apparel] creative stories particularly well, and they're missing out on an opportunity," said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix. "What really resonated well this year tended to be tech-oriented. Those ads either had an interesting product or an interesting new message."
Ace Metrix measures ads' creative effectiveness based on viewer reaction to national TV ads. The company tracked consumers' reactions to ads throughout the summer, measuring for attributes such as relevance, persuasion, watchability, information and attention. Each ad is tested with 500 consumers who are geographically and demographically balanced to reflect the U.S. census. Here, the top 10:
1. Microsoft: PC or Mini-Fridge?
The ad pits a mini-fridge that comes with a free ice tray against a Windows 7 PC that comes with a free Xbox 360. A robot emerges and blasts the former to pieces.
2. JC Penney: Turn your small change into Pennies from Heaven
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi.
JC Penney's charitable Pennies from Heaven effort urges shoppers to round up their purchase totals to the nearest dollar to benefit local after-school programs. It's the retailer's most extensive cause-marketing campaign to date.
3. Crayola: Crayola Dry-Erase Crayons and Dry-Erase Board Sets
Crayola promotes its dry-erase crayons and board sets, which combine "all that kids love about dry erase with all they love about crayons."
4. Best Buy: Geek Backpack Intel
With a geek attached to her back, this college girl can do just about anything with her new laptop.
5. Staples: Flash Drives
Agency: McCann Erickson
"Modern Family" star Rico Rodriguez wonders at the ability of a flash drive to store what once required huge computers.
6. Walmart: No Problem
Agency: Martin Agency
A mom shopping for back to school learns that Walmart stands by its ad-match guarantee, even when she doesn't have the ad.
7. Walmart: Frat House
Agency: Martin Agency
In this second Walmart ad to make the list, when a library backdrop collapses to reveal a wrestling match, a college student using a smartphone to video chat with his Dad is caught off guard.
"Choose the snack that gives back," the ad states, promoting Box Tops for Education, which partners with Chex Mix.
9. Dell: Derek
Agency: Sid Lee
A student lauds his Dell Inspiron 15R for enabling him to "try new moves on and off the court." Also promotes a free Xbox with the purchase of select PCs on Dell.com.
10. Best Buy: Geek Squad Backpacks
The second Best Buy ad on the list touts the benefits of going back to school with Geek Squad because it offers 24/7 support.