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What Back to School Campaigns Teach Us About Marketing During Major Life Moments


There’s no denying that the last few years have been tough on everyone. Between multiple disease outbreaks, inflation, supply chain issues, nationwide protests, and beyond, it’s safe to say that just about everyone feels drained. And not to mention how tired we all are of hearing the phrase “the new normal.”

With a generation of teens and young adults increasingly pessimistic about the world’s future and 24/7 news that shows seemingly daily global tragedies, how do we create advertisements that resonate with viewers? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we create ad campaigns that are grounded, engaging, and not completely tone-deaf?

How Amazon Got It Right

Perhaps the answer comes from, in part, Amazon’s back-to-school campaign for 2022. The campaign, called “Spend Less on Your Kids,” features Kathryn Hahn, who doesn’t avoid parents’ concerns regarding rising costs during inflation; instead, she embraces them. She points out that parents can shop at Amazon for less and still get everything they need for their kids. 

With 84% of consumers expecting to see higher prices for 2022 back-to-school shopping, this campaign provides a realistic take on the worries that parents have right now without downplaying them or ignoring them altogether – all while making witty quips about gas prices in the process.

The back-to-school season comes and goes, but there are always other life moments that call for extensive marketing campaigns – weddings, graduations, buying homes, and having children are all times in life that can cause stress and excitement. In our “new normal” (sorry, I had to), how do we market our products and services in a way that resonates?

What Can Your Brand Takeaway from This?

Amazon isn’t the first company to prioritize realism over idealism. Instacart, Progressive, and Burger King are a few examples of companies that have nailed their realistic advertising by being honest, authentic, and having fun with their audience. With their strategies in mind, there’s a lot your brand can learn.

Be Honest

As a grocery delivery service, Instacart isn’t just selling you fruits and vegetables – they’re selling you back your time. To tap into this, Instacart created an ad campaign featuring two exhausted parents that just managed to get their baby to sleep.

Other parenting-related ads showcase the joy of raising a child, the cute things toddlers do, or the excitement parents have when they find out they’re expecting. These are all wonderful moments – but life is messy. And you know what? Taking a well-deserved nap is almost as exciting as those other new parenting moments.

Instacart was honest with their audience by showing them that parenting is tough – but by using grocery delivery through Instacart, they’ll be able to take a break between those challenging moments. I mean, even if you don’t have kids, doesn’t a nap in lieu of grocery shopping sound fantastic?

Be Authentic to Your Brand

Progressive Insurance is known for their funny ads. In fact, Flo was ranked as the most recognizable company mascot in 2012. When you’re selling something potentially dull, like insurance, it’s important to stand out; Progressive does just that with their relatively new character, Dr. Rick: a therapist for new homeowners that are turning into their parents.

Progressive has several ads featuring Dr. Rick, who helps new homeowners navigate the cringe-inducing world of adulthood as they leave unnecessary voicemails, store things in the freezer for way too long, or complain about traffic. It’s funny, relatable, and exactly what you’d expect from a company like Progressive.

By staying true to their brand, Progressive is able to target new homeowners during a significant life moment, all while making them laugh in the process.

Have Fun

Nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry between brands, right? Burger King certainly thinks so. In May 2019, Burger King released a range of “Real Meals,” including the Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, and DGAF (Don’t Give a F—) Meal as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. Why? Because no one is always happy, customers should be able to make their burger decisions based on how they’re feeling, not just because McDonald’s wants them to be happy!

Credit: NBC News

One of the reasons this ad campaign works is obvious: it’s pretty hilarious and a not-so-subtle dig at a long-time competitor. The other reason it works is that it’s real, and it makes the same confession that the ads from Amazon, Instacart, and Progressive do. Life is tough, exhausting, weird, and messy. Why try to sell a perfect life to people who know the reality is far, far, far less than perfect?

The last few years have changed a lot about how we navigate the world as consumers; it’s only fitting that it changes how we sell products, too. Seize the opportunity. Meet your customers where they are rather than where they want to be. Life is tough – but laughing at it makes it a bit easier, don’t you think?

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