Chipotle Mexican Grill started serving up a four-episode dose of satire on Feb. 17 when the first of its “Farmed and Dangerous” programs launched on TV-streaming service Hulu.
We are about to be schooled on values branding, according to the hype and trailer for the series.
Big Ag and industrial farming are made the butt of jokes in the series, which is crafted to promote Chipotle’s concerns about sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals for meat. The storyline involves Big Ag company Animoil using a new product, PetroPellet, which increases production but also sometimes blows up cows. A video goes viral in the program, and hilarity ensues.
Except in the opening frames where it says “Chipotle presents,” nowhere are the company’s name or products mentioned. The message is clear, though, that you should eat at Chipotle because it isn’t part of that scary world.
Chipotle is banging on the cattle industry pretty hard, and I am sorry for our rancher friends, but if everyone eats less beef there has to be more room for a nice salad or some grilled vegetables.
Chipotle, of course, uses a lot of fresh produce. Each restaurant sautes fresh-cut peppers and onions. The chain moves tons of romaine lettuce, avocados, fresh limes and lemons and fresh herbs. Pile it on.
In mid-2013, Chipotle announced plans to serve more than 15 million pounds of locally grown produce in 2013, up from last year’s target of 10 million.
Putting locally grown aside for now, that is a lot of produce going into their burritos and bowls.
In an average day, Chipotle’s website says it uses 97,000 pounds of avocados. Holy guacamole.
At the end of the “Farmed and Dangerous” trailer Animoil’s marketing chief tells us, “Those people died by eating, not starving. That’s progress.”
Chipotle created some buzz in 2013 with the iPhone app and accompanying video titled “The Scarecrow.” In that video, Fiona Apple sings a haunting version of “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
In 2011, Chipotle was behind “From the Start,” which featured Willie Nelson performing Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”
Both videos played on the same theme of “Big Ag = bad; us = good.”
With its values branding marketing campaign, Chipotle is trying to create buzz that naturally leads people to want its product.
Since its Mile High City beginning in 1993, Chipotle has styled itself as a fast-food restaurant that cares about the supply chain. Now the company has 1,500 restaurants.
“Farmed and Dangerous” reinforces the values-branding message from its early days and helps Chipotle distance itself from McDonalds Corp., which owned Chipotle for about eight years until divesting it in 2006.
On a different scale but in a similar vein, Pescadero, Calif.-based Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo relies on values branding. Organic growers Larry Jacobs and Sandra Belin in 1985 began a collaboration with a subsistence-level grower in Mexico. For them, “the goal of farming wasn’t just the bottom line but taking care of people, crops and the earth,” as they say on their website.
Values branding may be stock in trade for organic and local producers.
Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms banks on eating and living healthfully in the same way, sending its competitive bicycling team to events around the world. On Facebook, YouTube, its blog — The Buzz — and other places, Cal Giant talks about its successful bicycling team, planting the subconscious message that healthful athletes eat a lot of Cal Giant berries.
“We are definitely trying to make a values-based branding message with our cycling team at California Giant. The team is really the ultimate picture of a healthy lifestyle, and the young people that ride for us are the perfect ambassadors and ‘moving billboards’ for our brand,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for Cal Giant.
She said Cal Giant began supporting cycling as a means to promote the company but the relationship has evolved to being part of Cal Giant’s core message.
“We strongly believe in the need for both good eating habits, with a diet including our berries, and regular exercise to truly achieve a healthy lifestyle,” Jewell said.
Supporting its value marketing strategy, Cal Giant is organizing a fundraising cycling event called Tour de Fresh that ends Oct. 16, the day before Fresh Summit starts in Anaheim, Calif. The event will benefit the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign. Members of the fresh produce industry will be signed up to bike 275 miles from Carmel, Calif., to Anaheim beginning Oct. 13.
More info is available at tourdefresh.com, or contact Jewell at Cal Giant. Other sponsors already signed up include Wenatchee, Wash.-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers; Los Gatos, Calif.-based Foodlink and Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association, Bard, Calif., which markets Bard Valley Natural Delights medjool dates.
Break through the clutter
In a book published by Harvard Business Review Press titled “Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell — and Live — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future,” author Jonah Sachs holds up Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as an example of values marketing. Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have sold a lot of ice cream, but it was Cohen’s passion in support of peace and against military spending that helped their company break out of the pack.
“Companies do controversial marketing all the time to break through the clutter. So if you can raise above it by taking a stand against nuclear weapons instead of using some sexy young girl, why not?” Cohen said.
Cohen warned that “values by committee” did not work well because it was impossible to get everyone on the same page and move forward, so they went back to acting on the values of the founders. Consumers saw the values as authentic because they were so personal.
A lot to consider
The part I don’t like about Chipotle’s value branding has to do with the seeds of fear sown by its message. Now I have to worry about exploding cows.
On the other hand, though, I appreciate the zeal that values branding brings to a product or company.
False or half-hearted commitment must be anathema to values branding, but finding the right message has to require experimentation.
However, consumers are looking for authenticity. We also are looking for shared values, which suggests values branding may be a valuable marketing tool.
We have watched Cal Giant’s commitment to its values marketing take root over the years, for instance, and I think it must be building consumer brand loyalty.
I suspect Chipotle also is finding a way to break through the clutter. I hope they sell a lot more lettuce, peppers, onions and avocados by doing it.
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