A Scarecrow with a Brain

Chipotle & the CAA Marketing team have done it again.  Their new “Scarecrow” campaign raises the bar for integrated marketing to a new level.  It’s consistent with a successful formula from 2011’s “Back to the Start” campaign, but surpasses it in terms of both strategic breadth & consumer impressions. In its first week, the video was viewed more than 6 million times and shared more than 300,000 times, and the game was downloaded 35,000 times in the first day. The real verdict lies in restaurant sales, which of course can’t really be judged for months.

The campaign consists (so far) of a 3-minute animated film and an iOS game. Both promote the virtues of sustainable farming by providing a glimpse into a dystopian future where only factory-farmed food is available. ScarecrowThe Scarecrow, traditional protector of food, struggles heroically against his traditional enemies, the Crows – who in this frightening Futureworld have been turned into “Crowbots” and control the food supply. The movie features a Fiona Apple cover of “Pure Imagination” (from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

I’m not here to debate whether we need less processed food (though in full transparency I will say that I believe this is true), or whether Chipotle adequately lives up to the ideals espoused in its advertising (there are plenty of bloggers beating that drum yet leaving me wishing they’d share some more virtuous examples). I’m evaluating it with the eyes of a brand strategist & a marketer. Through those eyes, the campaign is brilliant, for several reasons.

Brand consistency – I mention this first for a reason. I wish more companies would think about it first. It should be the first filter on decisions. One of the things I admire most about Chipotle is their consistent brand positioning. I’m never left wondering what they’re about. Independent of campaign or taglines, Beef-ishChipotle has always been about food with integrity, & about continuous improvement. That’s an important note for those berating the chain for not being pure enough. Chipotle doesn’t claim to be perfect – they just claim to be working toward a set of ideals.  I met Steve Ells, the chain’s founder, years ago, when he had just begun converting his supply chain to more sustainable ingredients. He was idealistic about it, yet very pragmatic. He acknowledged that he couldn’t make it perfect overnight, but committed to making some improvements every quarter. If only every company did that! The Scarecrow in the movie, likewise, doesn’t save the world in a day. He just starts small, doing what he can do to lead from where he stands.  In this campaign, the message is communicated in a way that really hits me emotionally, & motivates me to want to be better as well – to make more sustainable food choices, & even to be a better marketer.

Quality – Both the movie & the game are just really well done. Moonbot Studios’ animation is brilliant. Fiona Apple’s rendition of “Pure Imagination” is haunting & emotional. The story is evocative & thought provoking, & leaves me wanting to know what happens next.

Attention to Detail – Apple has just the right haunting, melancholy voice to fit the story. The song is familiar from another tale of a factory controlled by someone else’s imagination. There are multiple allusions to the “horrors” of processed food – our hero enters the factory through a tunnel shaped like a skull, Frankenchickenthe chickens are injected with an ominous green goo that bloats their breasts & shrinks their wings, the cows look at us with frightened eyes from a metal box. These aren’t intended to depict absolute reality, but to dramatize it. And when said hero returns to his farm & seeks inspiration in his vegetable garden, he picks up a familiar red pepper (evocative of the Chipotle logo).

Innovation – The film gets attention, but you’re only going to watch it so many times. The game gets you to re-engage with the brand & absorb its messaging multiple times thereafter. It boasts current technology – you move through the scenes by tilting your device, not punching arrows (that’s SO 20th century!).

Integration – As mentioned, the game reinforces messaging about fresh, drug-free ingredients, & refutes the notion that you have to sacrifice sustainability & quality to get your food fast.  There’s also a philanthropic component – 60¢ from every song download goes to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, which helps fund initiatives that support Cultivate a Better Worldsustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food. But wait, there’s more! The first million people who unlock & achieve 3 stars on at least 3 levels of the game, you get a coupon for a free burrito. So on top of all the clever, creative, artsy marketing stuff, there’s a traffic-driving component.

Chipotle isn’t perfect. But this is marketing at its finest. It’s certainly the finest I’ve seen in a really long time in the QSR world.  I, for one, am inspired to “cultivate a better world.”


Monica Hahn is a branding & marketing consultant & career coach based in San Rafael, California

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Monica Hahn is a consultant who provides marketing and brand strategy, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Monica is also a career and executive coach who works in person or virtually.

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What clients say about Monica Hahn: Monica has been one of the most influential and valued Career Coaches I've had the pleasure of working with. She's always shown a genuine interest in helping me achieve my career goals. Monica’s integrity, passion, and intellect distinguish her in her field. Her ability to envision and pave new pathways to our brand and concept are unparalleled.
Kevin Price interviews Monica Hahn of Hahn Solo Strategy. Monica Hahn is a consultant who provides marketing and brand strategy, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Monica is also a career and executive coach who works in person or virtually.

Listen to my interview with Kevin Price on "The Price of Business."

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