Chipotle Mexican Grill is once again turning to video to tell a touching story. And just like its last effort, the burrito chain is counting on emotion to spread it's "food with integrity" mission.
The Scarecrow is a short animated film to promote a new, free app-based game in which players fight against unethical food practices. It features a haunting Fiona Apple rendition of "Pure Imagination," originally from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and somber scenery as The Scarecrow trudges through a day of work at Crow Foods, a factory that produces "100% beef-ish meat". He grows increasingly sad as he sees chickens getting stuck with needles so they grow faster, and cows unable to move from their pens.
After leaving the factory, he finds a red chili growing in the wasteland and is inspired to cook. The world is transformed into a bright, happy place as The Scarecrow rediscovers the joys of real, fresh food. He serves piping hot tacos at a food stand to friendly faces. It's not until this final shot where the first hint of branding happens with Chipotle's slogan, "Cultivate a better world."
The Scarecrow is being praised as an innovative piece of content marketing and actual work of art. It's a road the company has been down before. Chipotle's previous video "Back to the Start" features another eerie version of Coldplay's "The Scientist", performed by Willie Nelson. It depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly transforms his family farm into an industrial animal factory before realizing the error of his ways. The viewer is taken on a journey to see the farm reborn into what Chipotle believes a farm is intended to be, where animals are free to wander the earth and green grass grows.
"Back to the Start" won the first-ever branded content Cannes Lions Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. It's almost reached 8 million views on YouTube since its posting in 2011. In contrast, "The Scarecrow" has received over 7 million views and generated almost 12,000 comments on YouTube in just over a month.
Something so popular and emotional is bound to garner some haters, as well.
Funny or Die released a parody called “Honest Scarecrow,” which casts the Chipotle video as a manipulative tool with a big budget. This version pairs the original animation with new lyrics reminding the public that Chipotle is a "giant corporation" tugging at our heartstrings not because of a genuine interest in sustainability but rather to advance burrito sales.
Regardless of how you feel about the issue of sustainable food and Chipotle's motivation, these videos are clever content marketing. Since the restaurant chain doesn't advertise on television, the popularity of these videos are examples of brand storytelling replacing traditional commercials with a big impact.
We used Chipotle as an example of a company that consistently and compellingly captures the attention of their audience throughout their content lifecycle in our new book "Brands in Glass Houses: How to Embrace Transparency and Grow your Business through Content Marketing". With its seamless and transparent messaging, Chipotle is a perfect fit for the chapter on being consistent and telling the same story across all channels.
From their website to online magazine to this latest video, Chipotle has invested in producing educational information about sustainable farming, animal welfare and environmental impact. This video integrates well with Chipotle's other marketing efforts to spread its message of responsibly raised food.
The approach appears to be working. Chipotle’s Communications Director Chris Arnold recently revealed that the company is working on a series of four, TV show-length dark comedies, Farmed and Dangerous, that Chipotle will post online sometime in 2014.
What are your thoughts about The Scarecrow? Does it make you rethink that order of fast food chicken nuggets?
Get more examples of brands like Chipotle doing content marketing differently in our book "Brands in Glass Houses".