Hannah Maute was so ready for sixth grade.
It was her first day at a new school, and she’d gone shopping with her mom to pick out the perfect outfit: a black T-shirt with a rainbow-colored peace sign made out of zippers, paired with long jean shorts and sparkly black Converse.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, yes, I look so bomb,’” Maute said.
Then she got to school, where the other girls were wearing short shorts and sneakers and logos from brands she’d never heard of, like Hollister and Abercrombie.
“I’m like, where did I go so wrong?” she said. “I feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Maute is in college now, and she’ll never get that day back. But there’s a legion of young YouTube influencers who have turned preventing future Mautes into a back-to-school business opportunity with videos like these:
There are dozens of these videos online, and they’re very popular.
“They are one of my best-performing videos,” said 17-year-old Sadie Aldis, a senior in high school who’s had a YouTube channel for three years. “I’m pretty sure it’s because it’s such a relatable thing to my audience.”
Her latest back-to-school video has almost half a million views and more than 1,500 comments.
Going back to school is a huge moment in the life of a kid or a teen. It’s full of possibility.
Your erasers are clean. Your notebooks are crisp.
“It’s the best thing to know that you have all of these cute supplies, and you’re walking into school not with the same notebook that you’ve been using for five years,” Sadie said.
But along with all the excitement, there can be a ton of pressure to fit in, especially on your first day.
Ten-year-old YouTube influencer Ellie Ana lives in Florida, and the back-to-school fashion videos she makes with her older sister Emma Marie get hundreds of thousands of views.
“Probably because a lot of people me and Emma’s age, like, want to see what people wear to school, so they know what’s, like, popular to wear,” she said.
Emma, who’s 15, wears a lot of crop tops, ripped jeans and Vans. Her YouTube channel has more than a million subscribers.
“Whatever I’m wearing that they really like, they want to go get, and they want to know where to get it from,” she said.
It just so happens they can get it from her. Emma has her own line, including shirts, a hoodie and a puka shell necklace. Apparently those are in again.
Kids can make thousands of dollars with fashion and school supply videos. Some have corporate sponsors like J.C. Penney and Target. Kids also collect when marketers advertise next to their content.
Even notebooks need influencers now.
ACCO Brands, which owns Mead, maker of spiral notebooks and folders, has started sponsoring some of these persuasive kids and giving them free products to review.
“We live and die by back to school,” said Jessica Hodges, vice president of marketing at ACCO.
And Hodges said these days, the company is thinking about marketing differently.
“Gen Z, this current generation of kids, they listen to their peer group more than they listen to brands marketing directly to them.”
As for Hannah Maute, the girl with the zipper peace sign T-shirt? She’s 20 now and has become a YouTube influencer herself. She goes by Hannah Elise.
Her latest back-to-school video got more than 800,000 views.
She has just about recovered from that experience in sixth grade.