With its first-ever CEO from outside the family, LL Bean has a plan to boost its flat sales and aging demographic: shed its stodgy New England image and become an international brand. That includes tripling ad spending (a cost that will surely be passed down to the consumer), ads that feature greater ethnic diversity.
The new CEO is named Steve Smith, and has previously worked stints at Sam’s Club and Walmart. Reports The Boston Globe:
Smith, an Amherst native and the first non-Bean family member to hold the position of chief executive, joined L.L. Bean in 2015 after stints at AT&T, Hannaford, and both Walmart and Sam’s Club, where he worked to expand their reach in China. Since taking the helm of L.L. Bean, Smith has sought to use his global perspective to widen the audience for the brand. That means more diverse faces in its new ad campaigns. And it means an increased push to stand out from competitors such as Land’s End and Eddie Bauer and the “contrived posers” that feign a familiarity with the great outdoors.
…. changes reflect the “end of the direct marketing model” and a shift of focus away from catalogues. The company is now tripling spending on advertising buys in print, radio, digital, and television in an effort to support retail in stores…. L.L. Bean’s new approach was developed with the Portland-based marketing firm VIA, Smith said. The ads are more playful and feature families of more diverse backgrounds than the staid catalogues of yore. In one short spot, a bunch of 20-something skinny dippers strip off their Bean gear on a dock before splashing into a lake. In another, an African-American dad who is vacuuming turns the nozzle on his kids when they come inside covered in leaves.
Now I’m as inclusive as a PITA (Preppy, Ivy, Trad, Americana) blogger can get, and I’m no businessman, but it seems like if you’re a heritage New England brand selling traditional goods and you’re having trouble attracting younger, middle-class suburban whites, I’m not the answer is courting the rather small suburban middle class black market. Of course that’s not the only strategy, but as the New York Times and New Republic have reported, use of national parks and “the great outdoors” is disproportionately small among minorities.
Some of you may remember the 2007 parody in The Onion “African American Boycott of LL Bean Enters 80th Year.” Check out the video at the top of the page here.
Best of luck to LL Bean, and I hope it is able to find a growing new customer base. Meanwhile, you’ve still got a few trads around who appreciate a well made classic. — CC