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What Marketers Can Learn About Storytelling From Chipotle's Scarecrow Video

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“You are what you eat.” That phrase has been around since the 19th century, and to me, it means that what you put into your body dictates your personal beliefs on health, whether you are highly aware of this position or whether it is a subliminal choice.


Now think about this: Is your brand the product of a conscious positioning or a subliminal choice? Because if it’s the latter, you could be in trouble. Because just like you are what you eat, you’re also exactly who your audience thinks you are.


With so much power in the hands of the consumer, you’d be wise to think long and hard about who you are as a company, what your value system is, and the reasons your audience should believe in you. You may have the highest-quality product at the best possible price point, but if you’re not telling the right story, you’re not winning over your audience.


One brand in particular has recently embraced the “you are what you eat” mantra. My social networks just blew up around the latest creative output from Chipotle---a three-minute animated film called “The Scarecrow.” I can’t stop watching it. I figure I’m personally responsible for the ongoing spike in YouTube views.






(Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement for Chipotle. I personally do not eat anything with four legs, so this should not spark a debate around anything other than what makes for good content.)


“The Scarecrow” film is in partnership with the release of Chipotle’s new game through iTunes. The game’s premise is simple: “A journey to bring real food back to the people.” This is not a new concept for Chipotle. The brand and its founder, Steve Ellis, have been very vocal in their mission to “change the way people think about and eat fast food.”


I love this reality-driven approach to branded content. Most of us would probably prefer not to think about where our lunch comes from. But as I gain experience and wisdom (code: get older), I am learning I care far more about what I choose to put into my body. I’m making more conscious decisions, and expect the brands I engage with to do the same.


After about 5-6 views of “The Scarecrow,” my interest piqued, and I moved on to the Chipotle channel on YouTube. I watched video after video about sustainably raised food, family vs. industrial farms, pasture-raised dairy, and the impact these farming choices have on animals, farmers, the environment, and public health. I totally went out and got educated about Chipotle’s business model and beliefs, without even knowing I wanted to know. All because I loved a three-minute animated film.


I moved on to Chipotle.com, and there was “The Scarecrow” front and center, quietly staring back at me. The continuity of this omni-channel campaign was refreshing. I appreciated that I did not need to dig through the navigation until I found a label that seemed to make sense for this type of content. I popped over to Twitter and Facebook, and there he was, waiting for me. No matter how I engaged with the brand, I was face to face with this new friend.


As I continued to pore over the content, something stood out in one of the Chipotle story videos. Ellis shared that “the vast majority of the pork in the United States is raised in confinement. And I knew I didn’t want that kind of suffering to be part of our success.”


That’s a pretty intense message from a fast food brand. And yet Chipotle has been consistent in its messaging for sustainably raised food. During the 2012 Grammy Awards, the brand aired a similar animated film called “Back to the Start.” The reaction was strong, and the film won Cannes Grand Prix in the Branded Content and Film categories.


Instead of a pithy campaign with snappy music and bright colors, Chipotle chose a very different path for “The Scarecrow.” The soundtrack of Fiona Apple singing “Pure Imagination” is slightly dark, dissonant, and perfectly complements the warped world being portrayed in the animated film. And the entire thing is appropriately just a little sad.


So while I’m not necessarily walking away all warm and fuzzy, I am walking away feeling relieved that the folks at Chipotle seem to have a genuine interest in offering their products both responsibly and sustainably. And I’m also a little more concerned about where our food system is headed. So if you ask me who founded Chipotle, I will know his name because I know what his brand stands for.


What you stand for as a brand matters.


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Michele Miller is director of Content Strategy at Empathy Lab in suburban Philadelphia where she leads strategic and creative content initiatives across industry verticals, distribution channels and devices.

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