The Latest Marketing Vehicle: School Supplies

School supplies are expensive. Any parent and teacher can tell you that. That’s why a number of companies are pitching in to offer free notebooks, markers, pencil sharpeners and the like to create some goodwill for their brands.

OfficeMax on Oct. 1 will debut its second annual “A Day Made Better” program. The office supplies giant will honor 1,300 teachers at select schools with in-class ceremonies where it will distribute $1 million in school supplies.

All By Students, meanwhile, is giving out $20 million worth of free, co-branded notebooks at college campuses including Arizona State, Harvard and MIT. The multisubject notebooks are divided by ads for 11 brands including Geico, AT&T, General Mills, Altoids and Sears.

The college population is at an all-time high with 17.6 million students working towards their degrees, per ABS. They are expected to spend up to $17 billion in 2009.

For OfficeMax it’s less about advertising and more about giving back to the teachers. Bob Thacker, svp-marketing for OfficeMax, said, “The biggest learning we took away from doing ‘A Day Made Better’ last year is that people are passionate about the teachers that shaped their lives and they are enthusiastic about going the extra mile to show their gratitude. This year A Day Made Better is attracting a lot more support and excitement, particularly from unexpected sources.”

This week, when it unveiled its new design-focused office supplies at New York