Brands Are Trotting Out the Teacher Discounts This Back-to-School Season

White Castle's discount sliders are the latest offering

white castle storefornt
The nation's oldest burger chain is offering a 20% discount for teachers and other school staff. White Castle

There’s probably never been a tougher time to be a school teacher than right now.

As the fall approaches and schools across the country ponder their reopening strategies, teachers are increasingly anxious about the health consequences—both for themselves and their students—of returning to the classroom.

A survey by the Ohio Federation of Teachers released two weeks ago found that only 8% of teachers feel comfortable with in-person lessons. In Syracuse, N.Y., a teacher survey released last week showed that 77% favor remote learning. The same percent of teachers in Maine admitted in an Aug. 14 survey that they had serious concerns about going back. Meanwhile, a survey of early-ed teachers in Louisiana conducted last month showed that 38% feel depressed, and according to a recent article in the Education Week journal, the prevailing feeling among teachers right now is “a gnawing sense of anxiety, dread and fear.”

It’s hardly within the powers of an ordinary brand to quell teachers’ angst, but White Castle’s marketing people are at least trying to improve their lunch hour. Starting today and running through Sept. 24, teachers who show their school ID at their local White Castle can get 20% off their orders. The offer’s good for school administrators, principals and daycare workers, too.

“We hope that this expression of thanks can put a smile on their faces,” White Castle vp of government and shareholder relations Jamie Richardson said in a statement.

White Castle is hardly the only company offering discounts to teachers right now. BP announced a fuel discount earlier today (15 cents per gallon off, assuming the teacher fills up the tank). Kroger is giving a 10% discount on general merchandise to teachers through September. On July 14, Target announced that it would take its annual 15% teacher discount it usually activates for a week and extend it to six weeks.

Regional brands are also leaving their various apples on the teacher’s desk. Earlier this month, midwest supercenter chain Meijer announced a 15% teacher discount. In July, DSW gave away a year’s supply of free shoes to 10 teachers. Ocean State Job Lot stores in the New York capital region are offering an especially generous 25% off during Educator Discount Week, which was announced last week and runs through Aug. 26. And in San Antonio, the 25-unit Wash Tub car wash chain gave teachers’ cars some free suds during the first week of August.

“There are many uncertainties as the new school year begins,” Wash Tub president Matt Vizza told local news KSAT. “Offering … a free car wash is our way of saying thank you.”

It’s a long-held article of faith among marketers that discounts are a proven way to encourage potential customers to try out a brand. But the jury’s still out over whether these offers really build lasting business. According to the 2019 Loyalty Barometer Report, while 61% of consumers report that the “most important way” a company can interact with them is by surprising them with a discount or premium, only 5% will “stay connected” to that brand.

A study released by RetailMeNot last year found that while a discount can be the deciding factor to purchase something for as many as 76% of millennial and Gen X consumers, other data suggests that customers will happily defect from one brand offering a discount to another offering a better one. The American Marketing Association refers to this as the “loyalty discount cycle,” a catch-22 situation in which the expectation for discounts locks brands in a race to the bottom.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.