The annual back-to-college marketing blitz will be kicked off on Monday by Target with a reality-themed digital campaign by Target that lets online shoppers interact with YouTube personalities who are spending four days in dorm rooms filled with Target merchandise.
It’s Target’s idea for something original this year to capture the rising amount of money parents and students are spending as they head off to college.
The National Retail Federation, which plans to release its back-to-school and college-season spending forecast next week — says the season is the second-most-profitable one for stores after the year-end holidays.
A survey by market intelligence firm Prosper Insights & Analytics found that 29% of respondents said they plan to trim spending as their children head to college.
Prosper’s survey data also show the trend toward more college spending working in Target’s favor: The share of Target shoppers who say they plan to spend less on back-to-college declined, while the percentage of Target shoppers who say they’ll cut back for their younger school-age children increased.
Data released Thursday offered encouraging signs for the retail industry as the back-to-school season approaches.
Revenue at retail stores opened at least a year — an industry measure of a store’s health — rose 3.9% in June compared with the same month a year ago, according to a preliminary tally of 12 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The mall trade group had expected an increase of 3 to 3.5%. Revenue rose 3.4% in May.
Target says it has added 200 items to the back-to-school and college sections in its stores this year.
Target’s 2013 version of its annual “Bullseye University” campaign will include five YouTube personalities who Target believes will resonate with Millennial shoppers. They include Chester See, a producer, actor and musician who has his own YouTube channel, and Tessa Violet, also known as “Meekakitty,” who does video blogging and loves “debating sci-fi movies, making music videos and talking about anything.”
Viewers can interact with these “roommates” through social media, win prizes, virtually attend activities in the Bullseye University student lounge and tune in to live streamed concerts hosted by MTV. And they can click and buy any of the wire-based furniture or “Geek Chic” bedding with black horn-rimmed glasses seen in the rooms.
The campaign comes after a strong 2012 season last year in which college students and parents spent 12% more than in 2011.
Rick Gomez, Target’s vice president of brand and category marketing, says college students these days “are different than other generations. They are very style-savvy and design oriented.” Gomez, 44, says he took red milk crates to college. He used them for storage, as a coffee table and as a nightstand, but that doesn’t cut it anymore.
College-education-related expenditures — including supplies, student loans and tuition — were up 41% from 2011 to 2013, according to a survey of 2 million users of the budgeting site Mint.com. But the pressure still is on for parents and college students to spend the money it takes to have the “perfect” dorm room.
Target’s early start on the season reflects a trend, too. “Back-to-school creep” is at work, says Hitha Prabhakar, Mint.com’s personal finance advocate, as retailers are marketing back-to-school products earlier in the summer, rather than late July and early August, when advertisements used to start, she says.
Leslie Fox, from New Albany, Ohio, says her daughter’s Ohio State University dorm rooms in her freshman and sophomore years were “cold and bare” and needed to be spruced up. “I almost feel like it was necessary to make it warm and cozy,” she said. “It’s kind of a rite of passage for them to decorate their college room.”
But Prabhakar says some college students feel pressure to meet the high dorm-room standards retailers advertise. She questions the need for a “souped-up dorm room that you’ll have for nine months.”
Sticking to a budget was easy for Anne Katz of Baltimore. “Our son talked to his roommate, who he didn’t know, and they said, ‘Who’s going to bring the TV?’ and ‘Who’s going to bring the futon,’ and it was done,” she said. “I think it’s a much bigger deal for girls.”
Target says it’s helping shoppers’ budgets by keeping its products stylish but functional and affordable — and in step with what college students need. “We spend a lot of time looking at how they behave,” says Gomez.
Among things Target learned: College students often eat standing up. So Target designed a plate with a lip that prevents spilling. And because they also like drinking their cereal and ramen noodles out of the bowl, Target designed a big one with a handle.
“That shows how Target is trying to understand the Millennials,” he says.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Courtesy of USA Today