Staples has questions about back-to-school

Who: Staples Canada, with Jackman for creative, Dentsu for media, and Golin for PR.

What: “Let’s Find Out,” a new brand platform that debuted with the retailer’s annual back-to-school campaign.

When & Where: The campaign launched earlier this month and runs through mid-September across TV/online and digital display. There’s also a dedicated back-to-school hub called “New School HQ.” 

Why: While Staples serves its business customers year round, back-to-school is by far its biggest sales period. “Most Canadian households will visit a Staples location for their back-to-school shopping, so this is a very important time for us,” said the company’s chief commercial officer, John DeFranco.

Staples has been on what DeFranco described as a “transformation journey” over the past three years, becoming a “working and learning company” capable of catering to a broad swathe of Canadians—whether that includes students returning to school or people who are working remotely.

An old favourite returns: The creative once again makes use of the Christmas song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” which made its first appearance in a Staples ad in 1996 and has been used on-and-off ever since. Staples last used the song in its back-to-school advertising three years ago, said DeFranco.

But while the original ads featured parents who were overjoyed their kids were returning to school, the latest ads are told from the youngsters’ perspective. The music has also been reworked for this year’s campaign, with each ad featuring a different treatment for the signature line.

How: The original brief asked Jackman for a campaign to address Canadians’ current mindset and what Staples can do to support them, said DeFranco. They ultimately landed on the idea that Staples in 2021 isn’t just about back to school, it’s about back to the new school. That means products for everything from remote learning to health and safety.

“We feel the creative is most appropriate for what’s going on now,” said DeFranco. “I think people have stopped predicting where everything will be in six months, but we wanted to be representative of both a home classroom and school experience.”

Each of the four dialogue-free spots starting out by posing a question, such as “Will tech up their school game?” while going on to showcase corresponding products. The ads are ambiguous about the answer to the question they pose, instead telling viewers “Let’s find out.”

One spot, for example, features a young girl timidly heading into a new school accompanied by the super “will their new school mean new friends?” Any doubts she may be experiencing seem to disappear where she encounters a classmate with the same backpack.

Four spots is also more than Staples has done in previous back-to-school campaigns. “We had a lot of stories to tell,” said DeFranco. “You can get a wear-out factor [with a single piece of creative] so we’re really pleased with our four iterations.”

And we quote: “Like many Canadians, we’re encouraged by the change that we’re seeing across the country, and are hopeful that back to school will look a little more normal this year. We recognize that there are still many unknowns and, no matter what our return to class looks like, we’re focused on supporting Canadian students, parents and teachers on their unique educational journeys this fall to make the continued transition to the new school as seamless as possible.” —David Boone, CEO, Staples Canada

Chris Powell