Chipotle thinks you’re stupid

It’s about as simple as that.  I remember when I watched Chipotle’s Willie Nelson crooned “Back to the Start” commercial during the 2012 Superbowl, and I thought wow, how creative, and what a new low for food marketers when it comes to attacking the farmers and ranchers who feed them. Then the other day, a food/nutrition blogger I follow on Facebook shared Chipotle’s new animated effort with a glowing endorsement of their “respect for farmers and the environment”, and it put me over the edge into blog-post mode. Many online reviews of the video reference the “emotion” it is successful at drawing out in a viewer. True that. I had an emotional reaction, but probably not the kind Chipotle was going for.

I’ll put one thought out there to be clear before I get rolling. What I think folks think Chipotle is promoting is sustainable burrito ingredients, raised conscientiously by farmers and ranchers who care about their land, and animals. I’m not against such food, in fact I am for it in a very direct way, every day! But Chipotle’s ads attempt to paint a gruesome, grim picture of farming and ranching today, and I, based on first person witness and involvement, completely reject that.  To represent a food system that is the hard work of many real human hands and real animal lives as a cartooned industrial factory is ridiculous, says this cattle rancher as I look this very minute out at a real ranch, with real cattle, cared for by a real family. I’m going to give my humble opinion of Chipotle’s kind of digital marketing. And I’m going all McKayla Maroney on it.

Not impressed

Not impressed.

Everyone, not just farmers and ranchers should be insulted, or annoyed at least by these contemporary food marketing campaigns. You think Chipotle stuffs their oversized burritos from coast to coast with magic, morally and environmentally superior ingredients? That, my friends to use their ridiculous soundtrack against them, is “a world of pure imagination.” Haven’t viewed this masterpiece of modern marketing yet? Thankfully, right before I pulled the trigger on this post, I watched a version of the Chipotle video that I could feel okay about sharing. From Funny or Die:

Funny or Die

Click to watch.

Moral of the story: don’t be as stupid as Chipotle thinks you are. Watching animated videos and cutesy graphics isn’t giving you more real information about how your food is raised (the FOD parody for me as a food producer and consumer was cathartic, though). It isn’t bridging the gap of knowledge and understanding between farmers and consumers. It’s not meant to do that. In my best estimation, the goal here is to connect with consumers. On a superficial level, something like:

Dear, sweet, sensitive, ginormous burrito-loving public, you should feel good about your grab and go burrito if it’s from Chipotle because our consumer research says you don’t like industrial type stuff, so we are using a lot of buzz words on our website about how we don’t like that either and we’ve spent mondo burrito change on highly produced animated videos and interactive experiences that are completely void of real information, yet loaded with emotional appeal. In fact, our entire marketing plan is focused on competing in the fast burrito sector on the basis of our burrito ingredients somehow, magically being better on every level except maybe on taste, and for your wallet. So hey, keep up the great work of watching our stuff and sharing it with your friends, and playing games on your phone. We support (and feed) your need to feel better about eating giant burritos. Don’t feel guilty, feel hungry, hungry to be a part of a “food movement”. And hungry enough to add some chips & guac and a soft drink to your order.

Can someone explain to me in what way a burrito a day is sustainable? Wake up, folks. It's marketing. No more, no less.

Can someone explain to me in what way a burrito a day is sustainable? Wake up, folks. It’s marketing. No more, no less.

Ryan over at the Ag Proud blog highlighted some great background on Chipotle’s marketing claims and real offerings. Check it out. Point being, Chipotle’s claims about everybody else’s burritos are baseless and fact-less. But, I’ve got more than snarky annoyedness to bring to this fiesta. I’m proud to share a video with you that will take you on a tour of how beef is raised. Sorry, it isn’t animated, and there’s no depressed scarecrow farmer guy or Willie Nelson soundtrack. But there is real people touring real farms. Having real conversations about how beef cattle are raised with real people who make it their life’s work to raise it. They raise it, so Chipotle can sell it to you in burrito form, while creating a disparaging fiction of the process with animated characters and settings out of an advertising account team’s imagination. Because their research says it will sway burrito eaters their way. Awesome! Okay, no more sarcasm. I really am proud of this video, and the people who took their time to go on the tour, and the hosts who took time away from managing their farms and animals, which as you might imagine is a little more difficult and important than creating ads for a burrito chain.

The folks who take the tour get a gates-open, 360 degree, no question is off-limits experience at the ranch, feed yard, and processing plant. The video is a way to share that experience with you, so please if you have questions, don’t hesitate to pose them here in the comments or on the YouTube page. My point isn’t that everything farmers and ranchers are doing today is perfect, but I know good people are involved in raising your food, and they are always looking for ways to improve and be better. If Chipotle wanted to improve their burritos, they would stop using fear and fiction to sell them.

Of note: Farmers and ranchers aren’t social media morons, we know a nine minute video tour can’t compete with the millions of views Chipotle’s video will serve. We’re not trying to compete. We’re just trying to add to the conversation about how beef is raised in a way that is valuable to people who are truly seeking information. Is that you? Great, then I think it’s worth your time. Not you? Cool too, go back to your iPhone game and nine dollar burrito.

And for the record, before you ask, I freaking love burritos. I’m not some burrito hater. My conscience and brain just won’t let me eat Chipotle’s.

8 thoughts on “Chipotle thinks you’re stupid

  1. I agree, this fictitious animation is a slap in the face to
    all the producers that provide Chipotle with the ingredients they
    use to make their burrito’s. As I watched the short film I wondered
    to my self how anyone could actually believe the message they were
    trying to portray. The practices this video insinuates are
    offensive. Sadly some sectors of todays public will watch this
    video and believe the lies it is selling. I want to know where
    their facts are that back of Chipotles claims. Prove to me (with
    real facts and statistical data) that our industry operates in this
    way. Then prove to me (with similar facts and statistical data) how
    your production practices are so much better and different. Come on
    Chipotle, give consumers some credit. Not all of us can be so
    easily brainwashed! What a dirty, pitiful marketing scheme; you
    should be ashamed!

    • Thanks for reading Samantha. Unfortunately, we find that even with solid facts and stats, it’s tough competing with advertising that targets an emotional response. That’s why I thought it was important to call it out. At the very least, consumers should be aware that there is much, much more to the story – and resources that show a much more realistic portrayal of how their food gets to stores like Chipotle (like our tour video). I expect this kind of emotional marketing from vegetarian/vegan and animal rights activists, but for a food marketer to take this approach, it’s a big disappointment. It’s nothing new from this particular chain, and others, like Panera Bread are following along behind. Bad trend that I hope we can work to reverse.

  2. I agree that it is sad to think that this is what people
    who are not in the industry or have backgrounds in agriculture
    going to think about us and believe the wrong facts. I wish that it
    was more easy to prove to people and show the people the truth and
    change their minds. But it is also up to them to have the want to
    learn the truth. The lies the video is sharing with everyone and
    capturing the emotional level of people. With it being animated it
    can be targeted not just to adults but children as well. I do not
    support Chipotle and never will support them or their views. They
    should be upset with themselves.

    • Thank you for reading Cheyenne. I agree, it is up to individuals to want to learn the truth. I think we’ve come a long way in “opening the farm gates” and we can still do more. This is a huge area of frustration with the Chipotle tactics, the over-simplified, emotional, 2:30 version is undercutting our efforts to show the real deal. Discovery of truth is a totally different exercise, a logical and intellectual one, while we see people making a lot of decisions, including food decisions based on emotion, at least in part. That’s why the fear-baiting ads are so damaging to the “know your food” movement, all the while claiming to be a leader of it. Please share this post with your network if you want to, you never know who of your acquaintances may otherwise be swayed by this type of marketing.

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