15 lessons to help you ace your back-to-school email marketing campaigns

Profile photo of author Emily Riedy
Emily Riedy
14min read
Email marketing
January 8, 2023
Image shows a child with a backback.

Schools don’t open until September, but back-to-school preparations begin in August. Before then, brands need to brainstorm how to creatively market their products.

With a recession looming, inflation pressures steady, and regional and global economic crises ongoing, plenty of people are worried about how much consumers will be spending this year.

But don’t give up yet. In June 2022, National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that the Consumer Price Index hit 9.1%, the highest it had been in over 40 years—and consumers still shopped on par with the previous year’s records.

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Recent research conducted by Klaviyo showed back-to-school email campaigns performing better than most holidays, second only to Halloween. Top performing Klaviyo customers attributed an average of nearly $900k to their email campaigns for the season, and nearly $100k to SMS sends.

Image shows a chart indicating top performing email campaigns for back to school marketing
Source: Klaviyo
Image shows a chart indicating top performing SMS campaigns for back to school marketing
Source: Klaviyo

Besides, a lot of back-to-school products are necessary. New shoes for kids who have outgrown their old ones, electronics, school supplies, backpacks—these items don’t exactly qualify as splurges.

If your brand operates in relevant spaces—fashion or sporting equipment, for example—a back-to-school email marketing strategy is crucial.

That means even if your subscribers have been hit particularly hard by the shifting economy, they may not view back-to-school purchases as luxuries.

Break out your pens, pencils, notebooks, laptops—or whatever materials you use to jot down notes—and follow along to discover 15 grade-A back-to-school email lessons (plus examples) that’ll inspire your own seasonal marketing campaign.

15 back-to-school marketing ideas (plus examples)

Here are 15 email lessons and examples from brands that engaged their audiences with relevant back-to-school marketing campaigns.

1. Girlfriend Collective keeps messaging all-inclusive

Subject line: Take 15% off for back to school and, you know, life

Lesson: Everyone is a student in one way or another

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Girlfriend Collective
Source: Girlfriend Collective

Girlfriend Collective’s back-to-school email recognizes that a “student” can be anyone, not just someone in grade school, high school, or college—which cleverly widens their target audience for the campaign.

The girl in this feature image is preparing herself to tackle any thing returning to school may bring. The “back at it” copy, meanwhile, resonates with students and parents alike who are saying goodbye to the summer months and looking ahead toward demanding school schedules and hard work.

2. Catbird NYC empathizes with student sentiment

Subject line: Back to School Blues

Lesson: Promote your products with familiar phrases

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Catbird NYC
Source: Catbird NYC

Jewelry brand Catbird puts a creative twist on the common phrase “back-to-school blues.”

In this email, Catbird uses “back-to-school blues” as an opportunity to highlight their blue products—rings, necklaces, and earrings that contain blue gemstones. It’s an inventive way to ground a marketing message in something their audience is colloquially familiar with.

3. Quay helps customers see themselves in the product


Lesson: Highlight what your products look like on an actual person

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Quay
Source: Quay

Returning to school means spending a lot more time in front of a computer screen. Quay’s bluelight classes are just the item students need to avoid hours of eye strain and uncomfortable headaches.

This back-to-school email not only showcases Quay’s new product line, but also includes an image of a customer modeling an item from that line to give their audience a better sense of what it looks like on a real person.

4. O’Neill promotes back-to-school style

Subject Line: The Back To School Edit

Lesson: Demonstrate how to style your products

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from O’Neills
Source: O’Neills

Speaking of modeling a particular product, surf brand O’Neill pulls an entire outfit together to demonstrate how customers might consider styling the O’Neill back-to-school apparel line.

Students who want to fashionably strut into a new school year can use O’Neill’s outfit recommendation to build a look that’s uniquely their own.

5. Super Coffee challenges customers to a pop quiz

Subject line: Back to school SALE

Lesson: Make your emails interactive

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Super Coffee
Source: Super Coffee

Caffeine is a must for students and parents who are gearing up to face a new school year. With this email, Super Coffee shows that they want their audience’s mental prowess and caffeine supply to be primed for the year ahead.

In their back-to-school email, Super Coffee offers a 25% discount code to anyone who can solve their presented math problem. It’s not only a clever, seasonally relevant twist—it also makes their email interactive, encouraging clicks.

6. OSEA Malibu appeals to teachers

Subject line: A Little Back to School Appreciation

Lesson: Zero in on a particular audience

Image shows a back-to-school email from OSEA with a back-to-school promotion
Source: OSEA

Clean skincare brand OSEA takes a more targeted approach to their back-to-school campaign. Instead of focusing on students and their parents, they cater their messaging specifically to teachers.

Teachers are the heroes of the back-to-school season—they spend months planning for the upcoming year, and their lessons shape the experiences and minds of younger generations. OSEA hopes teachers will practice a little self-care, offering them a discount in appreciation for all that they do.

7. Drift ties their product to the season

Subject line: Save on Back to School Scents

Lesson: Talk about what your customers care about right now

Source: Drift

For some students, back to school means back to sports. And for parents, this translates to driving kids (and sometimes their friends) and gear to and from sweaty sporting events. For college students who drive around with their friends, avoiding a potentially smelly situation is a must.

Moral of the story: Most car interiors need some TLC as students and parents prepare to head back to school. Drift uses their back-to-school email campaign to promote their line of car scents that’ll keep cars of all kinds smelling fresh.

8. Native Deodorant shows they’re here for teens and their parents

Subject line: Check out these back to school scents!

Lesson: Help your customers feel confident and comfortable

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Native
Source: Native

On the topic of smelling good, this email from Native Deodorant highlights a speciality product—deodorant for teenagers—and encourages parents to help their teenagers feel confident on their first day of school.

Students have their plates piled high with worries as they navigate new subjects and new friendships, but Native Deodorant h their backs as students sweat the big stuff.

9. Hari Mari bids a fond farewell to summer

Subject line: Back To School Means . . .

Lesson: Understand your customers on a deeper level

Image shows a back-to-school marketing campaign from Hari Mari
Source: Hari Mari

Hari Mari uses their email subject line to entice subscribers to click through to the content of their message, which is a clever way to generate some curiosity from their audience.

Given their understanding of students and what a typical day in their life looks like, Hari Mari takes this opportunity to promote a line of sneakers that can stand up to the demands of a busy individual (walking to and from classes, spending hours on their feet, etc.).

10. She’s Birdie encourages on-campus safety with a discount

Subject line: 🐥 10% Off Back to School Sale Starts Today!

Lesson: Use promotions to encourage your subscribers to buy

Image shows a back-to-school email from Candylab Toys, with a back-to-school promotion
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

As students return to school, they’ll need materials to be safe and successful both in the classroom and outside of it. She’s Birdie promotes their alarm in their back-to-school email to help keep students safe as they return to campus.

And because cost shouldn’t prevent someone from keeping themselves out of harm’s way, She’s Birdie also includes a 10% discount students (or parents) can use to purchase their product.

11. Candylab uses nostalgic imagery

Subject line: 30% Off Just In Time For Back To School 📚

Lesson: Strategize your email design to convey positive feelings

Image shows a back-to-school email from Candylab Toys, with a back-to-school promotion
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

September can be a time of nostalgia for lots of people. The leaves are beginning to turn, there’s a nip in the air, and kids are headed back to school. Candylab Toys sells premium wooden toys, and their back-to-school email marketing capitalizes on that pervasive feeling of nostalgia.

The toys themselves—retro cars and trucks—invoke Americana, but the brand takes it one step further with art featuring a canister full of pencils, a shiny apple on a desk, and a stack of books.

While today’s children may be tapping an iPad with a stylus or reading their schoolwork off a desktop, these images feel quaint and bring about positive memories.

12. Day Owl communicates what their products can do—visually

Subject line: 🎒 Back-to-Backpacks!

Lesson: Let your images do the talking

Image shows a back-to-school email from DayOwl, with images that indicate a school shopping list
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

On weekday mornings, parents are racing to pack lunches, braiding hair, signing permission slips, and keeping track of masks and peanut allergies and birthday party invitations. The last thing they need is their kid complaining that they can’t fit everything they need in their backpack.

Day Owl, a brand that sells backpacks, follows one of the basic email design principles and lets the images do the talking in their back-to-school email marketing. Thanks to minimal copy and an aerial shot of one of Day Owl’s backpacks along with everything that can fit in it, a busy parent may only need a few seconds to be convinced of the value of the product.

Add in a 10% discount and a clear, well-placed CTA button, and an email like this has the potential to drive a lot of revenue. (The brand reported a high open rate for this one.)

13. Kibou addresses current events—with a light touch

Subject line: 2020 v. 2021: From Logging On to Dropping Off

Lesson: Reference global crises—carefully

Image shows a back-to-school email from Kibou comparing 2020 vs. 2021, including at-home schooling vs in-person
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

The most active stages of the pandemic were hard on nearly everyone, but especially on parents of young children.

Kibou, a brand that sells vegan leather diaper bags, opens this back-to-school email marketing campaign with a short, light comparison of 2020 vs. 2021.

The theme of the email was broadcast in the subject line: 2020 vs. 2021: From Logging On to Dropping Off. And the brand saw a high email open rate.

With lines like “virtual class log-in,” “in-person school drop off,” “youtube yoga,” and “IRL workout,” the email copy is bound to make a parent with a child young enough to be in diapers feel seen.

Overall, Kibou does a great job referencing the pandemic without including politics or invoking the grief and loss most people experienced.

Even better? They empathize with a few different types of parents, offering styling options for parents who are headed to the office, the gym, or the cafe.

14. Monsterbass leaves school out of their marketing strategy (almost) altogether

Subject line: Bass to School

Lesson: The upcoming holiday doesn’t have anything to do with what you sell? No problem.

Image shows a back-to-school email from Monsterbass using creative marketing efforts
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

MonsterBass, a fishing equipment brand that specializes in subscription boxes, uses “Bass to School” as their subject line in their back-to-school marketing email—and when it comes to referencing the actual return to school, that’s about it.

We think that’s really smart. Not only did their wordplay earn them a high open rate, but the brand doesn’t try too hard to link the content in this email to the academic year.

Instead, MonsterBass shows subscribers how well they know them by giving them the content they want: what’s in the August subscription box, techniques on how to catch schooled bass, a master class with a special guest, and inside info on the best types of baits to use.

15. Ritual Shoppe doubles down on self-care

Subject line: Back to school crystals 📝✨

Lesson: Meet your subscribers where they are. And be open-minded about what can be considered back-to-school supplies.

Image shows a back-to-school email from Ritual Shoppe
Klaviyo Showcase

Ritual Shoppe, a spirituality, wellness, and beauty brand, makes their subscribers feel seen by including hand-picked crystals thought to aid in focus and organization in their back-to-school email. They also include a link to content about building self-confidence—something lots of students are focused on as the school year begins.

High-quality shots of the products and well-placed CTA buttons make for a readable, scannable email that invites subscribers to shop and learn more about Ritual Shoppe’s products.

Prepare your brand for the back-to-school shopping rush

The sooner you can outline ways to creatively market your products to students, parents, or teachers, the sooner your audience will potentially spend their back-to-school dollars with your brand.

Even if you don’t sell notebooks, apparel, or other typical back-to-school items, you never know what your audience will need to make it through the year. Now’s the time to flex your creative muscles—and make sure your brand is part of a major shopping season. Learn how.

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Emily Riedy
Emily Riedy
Content marketing manager
Emily Riedy is a content marketing manager at Klaviyo where she works to publish content to educate and inspire online businesses owners and email marketers. Owned marketing channels are a means to building a substantial customer base for the long-term, and the content Emily is most passionate about helps business operators create strong business foundations in owned marketing principles. Before Klaviyo, Emily worked at a paid ads agency helping businesses transform their approach to digital advertising. When she's not strategizing marketing content, she is running around the streets of Boston training for whatever race is next up on the docket. She lives in the South End with her 2 year-old basenji Fig and frequents (probably too regularly) the local Spanish tapas spot.