While this past Sunday’s Grammy Awards featured plenty of exciting water-cooler moments—from finding out or telling someone who Bon Iver is to whatever Lady GaGa and Nicki Minaj were wearing—it was the first national TV commercial from Chipotle that had people talking.
The two-and-a-half minute spot features no dialogue and uses only stop-motion animation to show a farmer’s journey from traditional agriculture to factory farming, with all the hormones, warehousing, and pollution it involves. Upon seeing the results, the farmer has an epiphany, and goes “back to the start” by reverting to his original farm. The action in accompanied by a haunting rendition of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” by Willie Nelson. (It should be noted that for maximum impact, the ad ran immediately following Coldplay’s Grammy performance.) The ad ends with Chipotle’s “Cultivate a Better World” slogan and encourages viewers to download the song, with proceeds supporting The Chipotle Cultivation Foundation.
While at first this seems similar to most other companies touting sustainability, especially those in the food service industry, Chipotle’s method is more powerful because it never directly promotes the product or brand (beyond the inclusion of its name and logo), but instead focuses entirely on the message. There is no Chipotle restaurant shown, or people enjoying the product. In fact, without prior knowledge, a viewer wouldn’t necessarily what Chipotle actually is. Chrysler took a similar route with its “Halftime in America” Super Bowl spot last week, featuring Clint Eastwood discussing the state of the American economy, with the brand logo only appearing briefly at the end.
Sustainability is a positive message to promote in advertisements, but it must be done right, where the message is clear, but not overly educational or judgmental. The ad must also come across as genuine, as in the age of Internet backlash would quickly stomp out any attempt at cajoling.
The difficulties of this marketing strategy can be seen in the handling of Coke’s Arctic Home campaign. A partnership with World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Arctic Home is a money-raising venture to create a wildlife sanctuary in the Arctic to benefit, among other things, the survival of polar bears, a longtime mascot of the Coke brand. The connection seems like a slam-dunk, but unclear messaging and nascent references left many in the dark when Coke debuted their Super Bowl commercials.
The campaign, featuring two CGI polar bears reacting to the game, seemingly in real time, was accompanied by promotion on the brand’s Twitter and an animated live-stream. However, the connection to the Arctic Home campaign was conceptual at best. While the Twitter account promoted the message, the ads themselves (on the highest rated broadcast in US history) made no mention of the campaign. Some claim the cause’s connection to the combustible issue of climate change left Coke with cold feet.
But if Chipotle’s success shows anything, it is that a full commitment to the campaign of sustainability is necessary. Going half-in may lead to some positive press releases, but in the digital age of the viral video genuine, contagious marketing content can lead to more customers, more interest, and a positive brand image.