Walmart BTSWalmart BTS

A still from Walmart’s back to school commercial.


  • As debate continues over whether kids will return to school in the fall, retailers are attempting to roll out back to school marketing campaigns that hedge to an uncertain future. 
  • Analysts anticipate back to school spending will see a significant decline this year due to the pandemic, with 62% of respondents to a Prosper Insights survey stating they have no plans to shop at all. 
  • We took a closer look at some of the bleak attempts at back to school advertising among brands like Walmart, Target, and Amazon so far this year. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The traditional back to school advertising campaign looks a bit different these days. 

As debate rages on over whether kids will be allowed to return to school in the fall in person, brands are finding creative — albeit, bleak — ways to advertise for school supplies. Companies like Amazon and Target are replacing their traditional “back to school” messaging with vaguer “ready for school” phrasing, while others like Old Navy are airing television spots with the tagline “whatever this year looks like, make it fresh.” 

Their efforts come on the heels of analyst predictions that back to school sales will take a significant hit this year. According to a survey conducted by Prosper Insights, 62% of respondents do not plan to shop at all for the back to school season this year, and 21% of those that do intend to spend less this year overall. 

“Kids will likely dress more casually for virtual learning than they would to attend class in-person,” Bank of America analysts wrote in a July note. “Because of these factors, we expect the key back to school shopping period of late July through early September to be very soft.”

We took a closer look at how retailers are attempting to approach the unprecedented back to school season below. 

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Old Navy: “Whatever this year looks like, make it fresh”

Old Navy BTS

Old Navy

At first glance, Old Navy’s latest commercial seems like any traditional back to school campaign you’d see during pre-pandemic days, with images of mask-less children playing patty cake and running down hallways. 

Halfway through, however, we see children participating in what appears to be a Zoom classroom, and suddenly masked kids start appearing on skateboards and signing hearts. A true back to school ad for the pandemic ages.