Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chipotle Scarecrow: Pure Imagination or Pure Manipulation?

It is funny how easily great advertising can be twisted, just a tad, to change the message and say something negative about the brand. That is one of the challenges of our digital and social world. At one time large brands could produce advertising that remained unmolested because others did not have the ability to produce their own high-quality retort, nor did they have the means of distribution to get their response in front of a sizable audience. Today, Funny or Die required just one week to take Chipotle's new and remarkable video, add its own soundtrack, tweak the visuals and distribute their version to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

After winning the 2012 Cannes Grand Prix with their emotional campaign, "Back To The Start," Chipotle has returned with another beautifully produced ad campaign. "The Scarecrow" is a three-minute animation that almost rivals the film "Up" in its ability to garner attention, gain empathy and engage emotion rapidly. The video is set to a haunting Fiona Apple version of Willie Wonka's "Imagination!" (one of my all-time favorite songs!), and it culminates with an invitation to download a game at

In the affecting ad, a scarecrow worker arrives to work at a large factory farm and proceeds to witness the mistreatment of animals, mass production of synthetic food and manipulation of messages about healthy, natural farming. Upon returning home to his small farm, he is struck with the organic nature of his own produce and arrives at an idea to bring healthier, more natural food to the people. While the Chipotle brand is largely absent until the end, there are small hints of the firm's trademark pepper at several points in the short film.

It seems hard to fault the message or delivery. The whole thing seems so authentic and wholesome--at least, that is, until I saw Funny or Die's response. They have taken the same visuals, rewritten the lyrics for the song, and produced something subversive. The remake essentially accuses Chipotle of the same sorts of manipulation that the brand levels at corporate conglomerate food producers.

Is the remake fair in casting Chipotle in the same light as those they criticize? Salon accuses Chipotle of a "A vegetarian 'bait-and-switch,'" and others have maintained that Chipotle's commitment to GMO-free foods has been a bit tenuous. The brand has responded to the remake, with Chipotle Communications Director Chris Arnold noting, "You know you've captured peoples' attention when you're the subject of parody."

In this case, I'm going to have to side with Chipotle. While the remake can poke fun at Chipotle's advertising acumen and scale (the company is a $12.8-billion, 1,230-outlet chain of restaurants, after all), you still have to give credit to Chipotle for its commitment to reducing GMO products and being absolutely transparent about how they source their ingredients. The company's site even lists which of its ingredients are local, responsibly-raised meats, organic, pasture-based dairy or, under the heading "Always Room for Improvement," GMOs.

The remake may score some points, but Chipotle is doing what a brand should in the social era--being transparent, engaging in a dialog about its efforts to "improve each ingredient we prepare and serve," addressing criticism in a speedy and open manner and producing content that engages the emotions and sparks dialog.

What say you? Are either of these version fair? Or are both?

Remake ("In a world of pure manipulation"):

Original ("In a world of pure imagination"): 


mkedave said...

In reality, actions always speak louder than words (and advertising). Chipotle's effort is all that matters, and that's the right message.

Augie Ray said...

Great comment, Dave, and I agree--I think Chipotle's actions have been quite honest and on message. They walk the talk.