While a social media presence has become paramount for most brands, outdoor retailer L.L. Bean for the month of May has vowed to avoid posting on Facebook and elsewhere. The effort recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month and challenges consumers to do the same and redirect their focus toward nature.
On May 1, L.L. Bean announced across its brand channels that it would be taking a pause, leaving behind outdoor tips and an image that reads “Off the Grid.” The brand has vowed to return at the start of June. This is the second consecutive year the company has undertaken the unplugged initiative, with its latest efforts — or lack thereof — ironically drumming up some engagement. Post impressions on Instagram topped 8.5 million month-to-date midway through May, a 95% increase compared to the year prior, according to data shared by the company.
“We took a chance by pursuing this initiative, as our brand — like many — relies on our social media presence to engage with customers,” said Amanda Hannah, head of external communications and brand engagement for L.L. Bean, in emailed comments to Marketing Dive. “Eliminating those activities for a day, much less a month, can be risky.”
Additional results affirm that the message is spreading, with an average post reach that, midway through May, has already outperformed that over the same period in 2022, Hannah said. A note about the effort on LinkedIn from Shawn Gorman, chairman at L.L. Bean, has received over 3 million impressions.
For the first time this year, the strategy is tied to a partnership with social fitness app Strava for the inaugural L.L. Bean Feel-Good Challenge, an initiative encouraging consumers to log personal time spent outside during the month of May with a goal of reaching 500,000 combined hours. Upon reaching the goal, L.L. Bean said it would donate $25,000 to Mental Health America, a nonprofit it formed an expansive, two-year partnership with last year, to supplement an additional $25,000 donation made ahead of the challenge.
Within 10 days, participants surpassed the 500,000-hour goal and are now on track to top 1 million hours by the end of May. The early success of the retailer’s efforts has been crucial to cementing future plans, Hannah said.
“The response from customers, employees, community members and the broader business community has been overwhelmingly positive, and has reinforced our commitment to make this a recurring and growing effort,” Hannah said.
An emphasis on pulling away from social comes as platforms are routinely denounced as spurring heightened symptoms of anxiety and depression among users, especially as many people find themselves “doomscrolling,” or absorbing a seemingly endless barrage of negative content. On the flip side, the outdoors is known to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety while simultaneously boosting creativity and self-esteem, per research cited in the press release from L.L. Bean.
Inspiration for the initiative stemmed from a partnership between L.L. Bean and the University of California Irvine associate professor of psychological science Dr. Paul Piff to further explore nature’s effect on mental health. The partnership uncovered that time spent outdoors can boost resilience, among other benefits. Such efforts could help build the retailer’s status as a value-driven brand, which it has often sought to communicate through its marketing.
“As a purpose-led company, we have spent the past 111 years helping people get outside, with the understanding that spending time outdoors is good for our overall wellbeing — including our mental wellbeing,” Hannah said.
As values increasingly play a role in consumer loyalty to brands, a focus on mental health could strike a chord, particularly among Gen Z. Over two-thirds (71%) of the young demographic report that they like it when brands make mental health an aspect of their marketing and messaging, according to data from YPulse.
L.L. Bean partly attributed its 14% revenue growth in 2021 to increased consumer interest in the outdoors, a factor driven by the pandemic. The privately owned company is maintaining the momentum, reporting recently that, despite revenue falling 1% YoY to $1.8 billion in 2022, the year still marked its second-best of all time.
As the final weeks of Mental Health Awareness Month come to a close, the L.L. Bean team is eager for the start of June to learn more about what outdoor activities are keeping consumers busy, Hannah said. The exec also hopes that the success of the strategy encourages other marketers to consider taking part in something similar.
“[The] topic of mental wellbeing is relevant for any customer of any brand,” Hannah said. “I’d encourage other companies to enter the conversation in a way that feels true to their values and community.”