Brand Strategy

Back-to-School Ads: Do Brands Really Know Their Target Market?

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Sherry Shaffer

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Who’s in Your Target Market (and How Do They Feel About Whitesnake)?

So here at work, this happened:


Coworker: Guys! Have you seen this new ad from Walmart? It’s amazing, everyone needs to see it.

Me: You mean the one where the kids sing that 80s song from Whitesnake?

Coworker: Yes! It really gets me. My son is just like that—he wants to do everything on his own.

Me: Meh.


Aside from the fact I am child-free, the commercial didn’t resonate because whenever I hear that song all I can see is Tawny Kitaen writhing around on the hood of a Jaguar.

Yes, I know the lyric talks about going out on one’s own—but it’s about loss of love, not growing up. I hate it when we twist songs like that for a commercial.

But I digress.

The Ad Creep Starts Early

Let’s back up and look at the facts: The National Retail Federation says parents are expected to spend $75.8 billion on K-12 and college shopping. That’s just behind winter holiday shopping in revenues and that’s big, big business.

Back-to-school ads started creeping in July—and they generally look to mommies. They go one of two ways; they celebrate finally getting those little demons out of your hair, or they pluck the heartstrings with how you’ll miss their cute destruction.

Mommies wait by the bus, teary-eyed. There’s a collective sigh of relief that they no longer have to deal with their energetic, demanding progeny for several hours a day. Some dance, some look wistfully out the window.

Does the Target Market Always Have to Be Millennial Moms?

Far too often, there’s a knee-jerk assumption by many brands that women are the deciders in all households (it’s been that way for decades, hasn’t it?). And all women must have kids, and a bunch of them are Millennials now.

Having made these assumptions, companies go on to assume that to get the most eyes on a brand, you have to cater to Millennial moms—whether they care or not.

Whose Opinion Really Matters?

Back to the Walmart ad: It didn’t work for me, but I don’t matter in this case, because I have no real reason to buy 48 perfectly sharpened No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils or a backpack with Frozen characters on it.

However, that spot definitely worked for Coworker. And that’s where I have to admire Walmart’s strategy. You see, Coworker is male and over 35—a GenX daddy who was musically aware for the original video.

This normally reasonable guy was perfectly cool with some kid playing a bad hair band song on a recorder. It spoke to him. It mattered to him.

Walmart knew that a link (strange as it may be) between his childhood and his kids would draw his attention and make him feel something.

He is not mommy, he is not Millennial, but he has the desire and cash to buy his kids all the stuff they need for school. Targeting 101. Are there fewer GenX daddies out there? Yes. But we all know quantity does not always trump quality, especially when you examine spending power.

Don’t Forget Dad

Mintel reports that dads are a potential goldmine as a target market when it comes to their kids. Millennial dads like to shop with their kids, GenX dads like to give their kids a say in what they buy. They’re more inclined to say “yes” to those big eyes and heartfelt pleas.*

Coworker may not be the only target in this ad, but it’s enough of a departure to catch his eye and get him to talk about it—and influence others to notice (and buy). And let’s face it, there’s enough of the normal heartstring plucking in the ad to attract the eyes of the “usual” mommy market. (Plus, if she’s a Millennial, she may not have that off-putting Kitaen-writhing connection I do.)

Back-to-school may seem like same-old/same-old when it comes to advertising. But when there’s more than $75B on the line, smart brands who play in that pool are wise to reexamine just who their target market is and not take the easy way out. They’ll narrow their sights and hit hard with laser precision, and they’ll win.


*Mintel, Kids as Influencers, US- March 2016



Sherry Shaffer

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