Advertising is no stranger to wordplay, and the outerwear retailer, L.L. Bean, has adopted this approach with their latest slogan, Be an Outsider.
Defined as a person not belonging to a particular group, or a competitor not considered likely to win or succeed, the word outsider has been literalized by L.L. Bean to simply mean someone who enjoys being outdoors. Clever, but the combination of this neologism with the dictionary definition produces a latent, third meaning that is cleverer still. By appealing to a rugged individualism not uncommon among people who appreciate the great outdoors, L.L. Bean taps into the human desire to connect with the world at large while simultaneously standing one’s ground.
But the ingenuity does not stop there. The words be and an, separated by less than a full space, combine to form the word bean, as in L.L. By conflating an expression of existence in the imperative mood with their company name, L.L. Bean, by extension, makes their brand imperative to the consumer. As a final touch, the word bean also qualifies the word outsider. So, not just an outsider; a Bean outsider.
Conceptually, visually, and linguistically, the advertising is masterful. Simple, lighthearted images of people outdoors preface the text, suggest a playful context for the word outsider, and encourage the consumer to register no second thoughts. L.L. Bean becomes synonymous with nature, adventure, and happiness. For most people, that is. Those who identify themselves as outsiders, those who are reluctantly subject to the term, and those who empathize with the struggles therein, may take mild offense. L.L. Bean suggests that being an outsider is easy and that the mere purchase of their outerwear constitutes a form of heroism.
As a champion of capitalism, America lacks public reminders to counterbalance the edicts of advertising. And although L.L. Bean’s campaign is hardly in poor taste compared to the plethora of hyperbolic claims circulating throughout the media, their directive to Be an Outsider does reflect a cultural climate where anything and everything can be bought, even the idea of being marginalized.