We have just finished one of the biggest shopping seasons of the entire year—back-to-school. In a recent back-to-school survey conducted by Staples, 74% of moms said they begin their BTS shopping two weeks to one month before school starts-which makes the month of August prime time for retailers to encourage moms and their children to visit their stores and spend their money. Competition is plentiful in the BTS space—from clothing to school supplies, retailers partnered with some big names and offered some big time savings to gain their share of the market.

Mary Engvall, director of sponsorship sales for PME Enterprises, LLC, producers of M2Moms® and Patti Minglin, editor of M2Moms® Brand Marketing E-ssentials, are not only marketing professionals, but are both moms. They have spent the last couple of weeks looking through the latest in BTS commercials and have offered their “mom take” on what worked well (and why) this busy shopping season.

Disclaimer: We understand that commercials are just one part of a brand’s overall campaign efforts and how the brand effectively uses the commercial as part of an entire marketing strategy is really the key. Our opinions are based on the commercial spot alone.

Campaign: Kohl’s
Kohl’s was hoping their new “Inspired” campaign will have a cross-generational appeal to both moms and teens. Denim brands are connected with today’s most relevant musical artists including Lenny Kravitz, Avril Lavigne and Hayden Panettiere.

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Mary: From a Mom’s perspective, this ad has very little appeal. It is speaking to my kids and not me. I wouldn’t stay in the room for this one and it answers none of my questions that I need answered before I shop. Now, lucky for Kohl’s, I already know a lot of the answers when it comes to what they carry, what their sales and pricing are like etc. My son, who watched it over my shoulder, likes Lenny Kravitz, but never caught the mention of Kohl’s and Levis, so not sure this would work to get kids asking their moms to bring them to Kohl’s either.

Patti: At our house, the cross-generational appeal actually worked. I was a huge Lenny Kravitz fan back in the day and as soon as I heard his distinctive voice, I stopped everything I was doing to watch the commercial. On the other hand, my ‘tween-age daughter wasn’t the least bit impressed by Kravitz, but did ask if she could purchase the shirt Avril Lavigne was wearing in one of the spots. I do agree with Mary that the branding element could have been better—I missed the Levi’s reference the first couple of viewings and other than the Kohl’s logo at the end, I wouldn’t have known what store this was really pushing.

Campaign: Wal-Mart
In an effort to find themselves a secure spot in the hearts of ‘tween shoppers, Wal-Mart partnered with current Disney golden girl, Hannah Montana for their back-to-school campaign.

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Mary: While I have a houseful of boys, I would venture to guess that this Back to School campaign for Wal-Mart will be very successful with girl shoppers and their moms. Put the “low prices” statement together with the blazing star, Hannah Montana, and it can’t really miss. And the boys will be dragged along for the shopping ride, so Wal-Mart will probably do just fine capturing those sales too (as long as those boys have sisters!)

Patti: Although the Vanity Fair issue may still be in the minds of some moms, Miley Cyrus’ Disney character is still a clean and wholesome spokesperson that not only is cool for kids but works for moms as well. I also like the confidence of the “bring it on” tagline—in the midst of back-to-school shopping you sometimes forget the anxieties that come with starting a new school year. It is a very “girl empowerment” moment for both daughters and mothers.

Campaign: JCPenney
JCPenney has introduced five new brands this back-to-school season and used scenes from “The Breakfast Club” to show that when kids with different backgrounds come together they find out they have more in common than they thought.

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Mary: While this ad seems focused on appealing to teens, it’s nod toward “The Breakfast Club” will probably hit home with some moms. The kids in this ad look far more real than the others I’ve reviewed. So, on the appeal factor it does okay—not great, not awful. Because the kids look and dress more like my teen, it would at least assure me that my kids might like what they find here. But, unless JCPenney was a store I frequented and already had a connection with, this ad wouldn’t get me through the door.

Patti: I love this ad—but, maybe not for the reasons JCPenney is hoping I love this ad. I loved watching it with my kids and telling them—in great detail—my “Breakfast Club” movie memories. I felt that the commercial was a great way for me to share my own teen years (at least the good parts of those years) with my own children—both girls and boys —and gave us a new level of connection. However, I completely agree with Mary that unless JCPenney was already a store of choice for me, I don’t think this particular campaign encourages me to make it through the door. But, it has given me such a good feeling that I may now think of JCPenney as a shopping destination more often.

Campaign: Staples
Staples used their popular “Easy Button” icon to help ease the economic anxieties of the back-to-school shopper.

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Mary: Staples Back-to-School ads are terrific.  Who can forget the “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” ad from a few years back?  Kids hated it—were even insulted.  Parents thought it was a riot.  And let’s not forget, except for elementary school age kids and the occasional type A child, most kids simply do lot relish buying notebooks, pens and calculators.  So appealing to the parents’ economical concerns will probably be successful after a summer of paying for $4.39 gas like we have here in Connecticut. And the humor induced by the Easy Button (my teen owns one of these and likes to try and use it on me!) should work in their favor. This fits right in with what we feel Staples is: A store that sells a very wide variety of office and school supplies at good prices and with a sense of humor—because making boring stuff fun is always a good thing.

Patti: Staples has my favorite campaign of the back-to-school season! It speaks directly to me as a mom—the one responsible for where we shop for school supplies. And with three kids heading off to school, school supplies is one area where I will try to cut costs—and Staples looks like the place to go! Continuing to use their Easy Button icon is brilliant—it immediately gives the spot brand recognition even before you see a logo.