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Hitting a Bullseye: Lessons Learned from Target

Three takeaways from back-to-school campaigns that work.

I may be biased, but it’s basically a fact that Target is the best store of all time. Whether you need to buy groceries, get a new lamp, pick up some new workout gear, or get supplies for your best friend’s birthday party -- Target’s got you covered. And while all the company’s marketing efforts are charming and fun, Back to School campaigns seem to be hit out of the park year after year. Let’s break down the past few years of Target Back to School campaigns to see how the brand gets it right and how your brand can too.



Target's Campaign: For its back-to-school campaign in 2016, Target did more than listen to what kids wanted, it let them run the show. Every part of every commercial that ran in 2016 was made by kids. The illustrations, the music and vocals in the background and even the direction backstage was done by kids from the ages of five to 17. The stories told in the commercials, about how everyone makes mistakes or how a Star Wars lunchbox can help you make a best friend, were also written by kids. To find the stories for the commercials, Target worked with 826LA, a non-profit writing workshop for underserved children in Los Angeles, and allowed them to put their dreams onto paper and then see them on television. Finally, Target partnered with, a leading platform for education-related crowd-sourced funding, and funded $5 million of kid-proposed, wellness-focused projects in schools throughout the country. Check out a behind-the-scenes video about the 2016 campaign here.

Lesson Learned: Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. To speak to your audience, first listen to what they have to say. Then pull them in along the way. Tying in the community and charitable elements builds a bigger story and encourages authentic interaction with your brand.



Target's Campaign: In 2017, Target turned its attention to parents with its “Ready.Set.Prep!” campaign. Target made 15-second television spots that kept messaging simple and straightforward for parents who weren’t interested in storylines. The ads were poppy, colorful and simple, but still got across the key message that Target is the destination for parents who want to save time and money this season, while sending their kids back to school in style. These ads received 29% of the attention paid to back-to-school ads, according to research conducted by TVInsight.

Lesson Learned: Keep your messaging simple and to the point.



Target Campaign: This year, Target has shifted its focus again, this time to college students and teachers. Because 18-year-olds are part of the online generation that doesn’t want to buy anything in a physical store, Target has upped its web presence for back to school. On its website, Target is offering 360-Degree Shoppable Rooms, establishing Target as the one-stop-shop for college essentials. Order Pickup and Drive Up for online ordering are also highlighted, as well as same-day delivery shopped by Shipt to make getting everything to campus a breeze. By focusing on college students, Target opens itself up to sales in more departments than just backpacks and crayons and establishes relationships with young adults who will soon be making many of their own purchases. Target’s overall marketing this year has been focused on customer convenience and it’s used the Back-to-School campaign to elevate that message, reminding customers the variety of shopping options available.

Additionally, Target is offering teachers 15% off school supplies in 2018. Often overlooked in the back-to-school outreach, teachers buy tons of supplies for their classrooms every year, and Target is offering incentive to be their go-to. Offering teachers 15% off in a year full of walk-outs and protests over salary shows solidarity with the people who make the back-to-school season worthwhile.

Lesson Learned: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Elevate your brand’s key messages and current initiatives in a way that speaks to the audience you’re talking to.

Meet your customers in the middle and understand that different audiences will respond to different strategies. Let them know you value their input and speak to them in language that will resonate.  To understand how strategic campaigns focusing on your different audiences can affect your brand voice and elevate your messaging across platforms, contact our media relations and social media pros to start the conversation. 


Jordan Lockhart

Posted By Jordan Lockhart

Jordan is a glass-half-full kind of girl and prefers an iced vanilla latte. She could talk for hours about the American political climate or her love for videos of dogs in ball pits. This Florida-native also loves cheering on the Tampa Bay Lightning, schooling her roommates in Jeopardy, reading historical, non-fiction thrillers and soaking up the sun with friends.