Back to school can be an exciting or stressful time, especially with so much to do and buy. While plenty of brands woo budget-conscious parents and students with discounts, many others attempt to stand out by focusing on how consumers can showcase their individual tastes while doing good for others.

As long as there have been schools, children and teens have concerned themselves with how they will be perceived by their classmates. Instead of trying to look the same as everyone else, however, Gen Z consumers are highly focused on individuality that transcends brand names and gender norms.

According to a 2019 Barnes & Noble College Insights study, 86 percent of Gen Z students believe people “should have the freedom to be whoever they want.” That doesn’t mean that young consumers aren’t looking to one another for inspiration, however, especially when it comes to style.

Social Campaigns Lean On Influencers and Cross Promotions to Promote Individuality

Recently, influencer Piper Rockell modeled several Fashion Nova outfits on Instagram to her two million followers, while Hot Topic partnered with musician Yungblud to reach an edgier crowd.

For its most recent back to school campaign, teen apparel brand Hollister’s partnered with influencer Emma Chamberlain. The teen filmed a low-budget, behind the scenes video of a photo shoot for the brand in which she picked her own outfits to model. Hollister’s delivery was the same style as her popular YouTube videos, making the campaign feel like a natural extension of her own brand. The young star also partnered with Romwe for back to school fashions.

In a more polished example, Macy’s, the exclusive sponsor of the original Snapchat show The Dead Girls Detective Agency, integrated “swipe up to shop” ads, brand mentions and product placements during the show. The legacy department store also created the “All Brand New Challenge” for musical video app TikTock. Mobile users were invited to record videos and share their back to school style.

Mobile Shopping Becomes the Norm

Brands are turning to mobile for back to school campaigns, and for good reason. According to AdColony, 70 percent of online shoppers do so on a smartphone. Advertising is influential, respondents admitted. Just over half (53 percent) said they have purchased something on their mobile device directly from an ad. Seventy-five percent said they would purchase something on their mobile device directly from an ad if the product was relevant to them.

Price is the most important consideration when choosing where to shop for back to school among consumers, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Back to School Shopping report. Even so, 31 percent said they planned to donate an average of $51 in school supplies for the less fortunate.

Socially Conscious Campaigns Go Mainstream

According to MNI Targeted Media, 50 percent of Gen Z consumers state that knowing a brand is socially conscious influences purchase decisions. And brands are listening and acting. 

Zappos and Amazon partnered with basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to launch school supply drives across the U.S. that benefit Communities in Schools (CIS), a program that provides school supplies to low-income students.

Quaker Chewy launched a cause marketing campaign with and actor Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) to help cover classroom costs that are largely assumed by teachers. The organization will donate $1 for every Chew granola bar UPC code entered on its microsite, up to $250,000.

Rice Krispies Treats partnered with the National Federation of the Blind to add Braille stickers and re-recordable audio boxes to create accessible Love Notes in the form of Braille stickers and re-recordable audio boxes. Sensory Love Notes come in a pack with four heart-shaped stickers, each with a different texture designed for autistic children who enjoy tactile experiences.

Families with K-12 students plan to spend an average of $696.70 on back-to-school shopping in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), compared to $684.79 last year. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay noted that it’s not parents who are spending, either.

“Members of Generation Z are clearly becoming more involved with back-to-school purchasing decisions rather than leaving the choices up to mom and dad,” Shay said. “Over the years, both teens and pre-teens are spending more of their own money on back-to-school items.”