When it comes to the food and restaurant industry, specially fast food sector, giant brands such as McDonalds and Burger King spend considerable investment on national campaigns, constantly broadcasting their messages to as many consumers as possible. Chipotle, in contrast, works with a much smaller budget, barely advertises on TV and does its work in-house. And yet they are seeing much better growth, at least in the last few quarters. How does this non-traditional approach to this fixed industry works one might wonder?
Chipotle has targeted millennials for its primary customer segment. Its strategy was to win over this target audience by solidifying its own reputation for freshness, and offering a healthier fare than its competitors. Meanwhile the brand gained even greater reputation by shying away from traditional media unlike its giant competitors, since the younger audiences feel that it’s less authentic and more difficult to connect with. With the advancement of technology and ease of access to content, this customer segment has been exposed to many of these paid advertising campaigns, which in essence are all the same: companies talking greatly about their products and what they do. Having so much exposure to so many different ad campaigns has in a way turned the audience off who are now seeking greater value from the products and companies they want to support and follow.
Recognizing that there is value in reaching out to its customer in a meaningful and creative way, Chipotle has embraced a new wave of marketing strategy focused on developing more “owned media” and visible event strategies, both of which tend to appeal to its ideal customer base: millennials. Chipotle’s first national TV ad wasn’t traditional by any means. It featured Willie Nelson telling a two-minute animated story of a farmer whose business grows massive, before his conscience convinces him to revert to more humane, sustainable operations. “The Scarecrow,” a Big-Food-mocking 3½-minute animated video ad, which is another on of Chipotle’s genius light branding campaign, depicts a scarecrow’s journey to bring wholesome food back to the people by providing an alternative to the processed food that dominates his world. The film is set in a spooky, fantasy world where all food production is controlled by fictional industrial food giant Crow Foods, run by evil crows.
This short animated movie is part of a several short clip animated clips, which precedes a series of four, TV show-length Big-Food-busting dark comedies, Farmed and Dangerous. For Chipotle, it has been all about aligning its name with the strong Millennial values to eat better, eat local and brand lightly. The company hopes that Millennials, who are the heart of Chipotle’s target customers, will make Chipotle’s better-for-you messaging go viral. It’s working at a more grassroots level to build support too, like with its Cultivate food and music festival and its Farm Team loyalty program both are focused on humane food sourcing and organic farming.