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Talk about an offer they couldn’t refuse. L.L. Bean needed some way to communicate that it was expanding beyond the outdoorsy image it had cultivated for so long. So when a college student volunteered to promote the new Signature collection at a local coffee shop, the company jumped at the chance. The success of the promotion then encouraged the college student and the company to recruit others who would continue to host impromptu events.

The original volunteer freely admitted that his offer began as a tactic to get free clothes. But he also appreciated the move by L.L. Bean to design items of more interest to younger clients. The new Signature collection competes directly with popular, preppy retailers such as J. Crew and Ralph Lauren. It also means a move away from its primary market of 50-year-old buyers; the last time L.L. Bean attempted a new product line though, it was a dismal failure. Often when retailers try to shift their images, such as by “going younger” or trying to be more fashionable, they fail.

In this case, L.L. Bean had a unique opportunity to recruit college students who already had expressed interest. These brand ambassadors now have input on design and Web site decisions. In exchange for free clothes (which cost the company virtually nothing), they talk up the new collection to campuses throughout the northeast United States while creating additional promotional networks on those campuses. The ambassadors also use Facebook and word of mouth to generate crowds at their gatherings, where they showcase samples from the collection and raffle off L.L. Bean gift cards and clothes.

Discussion Questions:

1. How can L.L. Bean take this grassroots promotion to a larger audience?  

2. Do you think L.L. Bean will be able to buck the trend of failure when retailers try to change their image?

Jenn Abelson, “With Student Help, L.L. Bean Tries Younger Look,” Boston Globe, March 15, 2010