Staples brings more variety to back-to-school

How the retailer is showing off a deeper product array with its long-running "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" platform.


Staples Canada is returning to a well-established approach for this year’s back-to-school season, albeit with more of a focus on older students and showing off the supplies parents might not have associated with the retailer.

Back-to-school has long been one of the most active marketing seasons for Staples. This year is no different, with a mass campaign featuring radio, digital display, social and a new TV spot, again featuring a version of the song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Staples first aired back-to-school campaigns featuring the Andy Williams song in 1994, taking a tune associated with holiday cheer and turning it into one that symbolizes the joy parents feel over getting rid of their kids. The brand has come back to the idea numerous times in both its U.S. and Canadian campaigns in recent years, typically featuring a cover of the song in a more modern style.

“We have a lot of equity in ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’” says Sandy Salmon, director of advertising at Staples Canada. “That’s something people associate with the brand and sing to themselves when they walk in the store, all these years later. So we haven’t done broad-scale changes to that core brand idea, because it has been very successful. What we have done is really elevated our current offerings.”

Salmon says the insight behind the long-running platform is just as relevant now as it was back then, especially when coupled with the brand’s more recent positioning around making things “easy.” A survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Staples in July showed that 60% of Canadian parents, teachers and students enjoy the back-to-school season. Looking specifically at parents with school-aged kids, over 80% welcome the social aspect of school, with more than half saying they enjoy the increase in “me time.” However, roughly half of parents feel at least some degree of stress about back-to-school, with the most common source of anxiety (according to 79% of respondents) being the cost.

“We are the back-to-school specialists, and that hasn’t changed,” Salmon says. “[But] we do have some more trendy items, and more tech and decor items than we have had in the past.”

One thing that is new for this year’s campaign is the Student Living Centre, an online and in-store hub for college and university students. Through an online portal and showroom-style displays in select stores, customers will be shown what they might not typically associate with Staples, such as bedding, decor, furniture and kitchen products. Staples Canada is working with Erica Ehm and her company Ehm&Co to promote the Student Living Centre, including a “#ThinkStaples” back-to-school event in late July.

Staples Canada has targeted post-secondary students in the past, although Salmon says it has been on a much smaller scale in favour of connecting with parents of younger children. But the array of shipping options Staples offers means parents can buy products from their local Staples or online. They can then have them shipped to the town their child will be attending school through its national retail network, making outreach to post-secondary students a natural fit. And with many of them looking to outfit their homes for the first time, the Student Living Centre is also an opportunity to once again show off its wider product array.

“We wanted to show we’re not just about papers and pens and backpacks,” Salmon says. “The rooms have things people know about Staples but also a lot of things they don’t, so we wanted to showcase that in an interesting and exciting way by putting it together in more of a curated room. Seeing it as a built room. People don’t realize all the things you can get at Staples. Showing it all together tells a totally different story than if you’re just browsing online.”