The tragedy of L.L. Bean’s Pinterest (updated)


Pinterest is a social bookmarking site, an Instagram without the commitment, which lets users “pin” any image they find interesting on the web. Once you sign up for Pinterest, when you see anything you like in a web browser, you click, it’s saved, and you build a Tumblr-style blog of groovy stuff to view or share later.

Brands are intrigued, because of course they want you to “like” or “pin” them, so in 2011 many set up Pinterest pages hoping for another broadcast medium.

Wait … did I say broadcast? Well, let’s look at L.L. Bean’s Pinterest site as an example. Boots. Flannel shirts. Stuff you can buy. It’s a catalog. There’s even a picture of an L.L. Bean store. Sigh. This is sad, because the outdoor brand has millions of ways it could tell inspiring stories. If you visit its flagship store in Freeport, Maine, you can’t help but be inspired to go camping, spend time in the dark woods with family and friends, pilot a kayak down a roaring river. L.L. Bean tells a story that many want to believe; most Americans who buy outdoor gear don’t really spend weeks outside, but vicariously imagine a rugged adventure under sun and stars. L.L. Bean could fill 90% of its Pinterest pages with candy for that desire, and slip in a few products in the remaining holes. But, alas, it appears the social media editor for Pinterest just uploaded the entire L.L. Bean product catalog. Or it could be consumers simply like to “pin” product shots as well; see update below.

Now, consider the savvier Whole Foods’ Pinterest. Here, instead of products, you’re greeted with photo collections about garden sheds and cooking for the holidays, and as you dive deeper it feels like Martha Stewart is sharing inspiring scenes and scents from beautiful homes. (I’m not the floured-up rolling pin demo, but I’m sure this snuggier stuff has an audience.) Whole Foods inspires us to go do something. Likely, that will require a shopping trip, but that’s the backbeat, not the lyrics here.

The great tragedy of social media is most brands use it solely to identify you and then spray you with one-way broadcast messages that promote their brand. “Engagement” is a pseudonym for “tagging a prospective customer.” This is understandable. No big organization can easily interact in two-way dialogue with millions of customers. But L.L. Bean, can’t you try a bit harder than showing duplicate images of furry boots?

Update — Laurie Brooks, Sr. Public Relations Representative of L.L. Bean, responded as follows: “I’d like to provide a clarification to your blog post. L.L. Bean has a very robust brand social media presence, that does not yet include an official Pinterest account. I believe the link you posted is an aggregate of all Pinterest users that have pinned L.L. Bean. We are big fans of Pinterest and hope to be active in the space in the near future.” The L.L. Bean Pinterest page appears to be under development here. The other page here http://pinterest.com/source/llbean.com/ is the No. 1 organic result for “L.L. Bean on Pinterest” and has been reported as an L.L. Bean site elsewhere in the press, but apparently is a crowdsourced compilation that resembles a product catalog. Thanks, Laurie, for the clarification.

Originally posted on Google+. For another view of how Pinterest is an evolution in social media, don’t miss Douglas Brundage’s analysis here.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.


4 thoughts on “The tragedy of L.L. Bean’s Pinterest (updated)

  1. I so agree. It seems that in all of this mayhem we have forgotten old school basics. Tell a story, get people engaged. It seems many organizations are forgetting the “creative” in this process. Marketing is sales, advertising is creative. Perhaps they shouldn’t let someone with marketing experience run their advertising.

  2. In all fairness though, you can actually buy things from LL Bean fairly easily online – Whole Foods is on the site for more of the engagement factor, rather than the sales factor! (Just because you have different goals for your brand interaction on the site doesn’t mean one is “right” and the other is “wrong”!

    Full disclosure: I have absolutely to no ties with anyone from L.L. Bean or Whole Foods nor anyone pinning for either brands!

  3. Hi Ben,
    I’d like to provide a clarification to your blog post. L.L.Bean has a very robust brand social media presence, that does not yet include an official Pinterest account. I believe the link you posted is an aggregate of all Pinterest users that have pinned L.L.Bean. We are big fans of Pinterest and hope to be active in the space in the near future. Please feel free to contact me directly with additional questions or concerns.
    Sincerely,
    Laurie Brooks, Sr. Public Relations Representative, L.L.Bean, Inc. lbrooks@llbean.com

  4. So users pinned the product shots… Confirms my feeling (and others’ feeling) that pinterest is acting as a visual wish list or look book that many consumers shop from later.

    I’m not sure this would be a missed opportunity even if LL Bean created it. Why put up photos of fishing and lifestyle…? If that’s not how consumers are using pinterest, that may not be the best approach.

    I think an LL Bean pinterest board filled with product shots is a perfectly good idea. Whole Foods is a silly comparison. A whole foods page filled with shots of bags of flour and egg cartons would be silly. Photos of the finished product and recipes are well established ways to sell food. Totally different business and product set.

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