Chipotle Takes on Big Food in Haunting Commercial, The Scarecrow

The ScarecrowEerie and beautiful, The Scarecrow is a powerful anti-factory-farming message served up in a new commercial that barely refers to what’s actually being pitched. But the intent is as subtle as a brick to the head: Chipotle Mexican Grill is taking on Big Food.

The Scarecrow is an animated short meant “to help people better understand the difference between processed food and the real thing,” says Chipotle chief marketing officer Mark Crumpacker, the American food chain behind the promotion.

See a dystopian city where animals are pumped with growth chemicals and meat is labeled “beef-ish.”  Watch hapless scarecrows abandon their crop watch, becoming slaves to creepy robotic crows. Hear Fiona Apple croon “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a haunting soundtrack that further darkens the mood.

The promotion stops short of actually naming any livestock producers that do cage animals and pump them with growth promoters and antibiotics, nor does it tag restaurants that serve up the resulting “meat”.

It’s also a teaser for a free game, available for iPhone and iPad, in which players  “tilt and tap your way through four unique worlds to protect vulnerable veggies, rescue caged animals, and bring fresh food to the citizens of Plenty, all while dodging the menacing Crowbots.”  Play well and win “stars” that give you discounts at Chipotle stores.

Haunting visuals, hipster music, and a free game for smartphones and tablets: no wonder this promo is being touted as the most brilliant marketing campaign of 2013.  North America’s favorite Mexican restaurant chain doesn’t advertise on TV, as market research shows that Millenials (Chipotle’s target customer) are skeptical of brands that aggressively self-promote.

Previously part-owned by McDonald’s, Chipotle has adopted a mission statement of “food with integrity“, a manageable goal since their menu consists of only five items: tacos, salads, and a trio of burrito dishes.

Last July, the company announced plans to become the first US restaurant chain to ban genetically engineered ingredients. It offers vegetarian entrees, and serves meat sourced from animals raised responsibly, free from antibiotics and fed an additive-free, vegetarian diet. There are no microwaves or freezers in any of its 1,400 locations spread across the US, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

So maybe calorie-laden burritos are nutritionally dubious, but they sure beat nuggets made from pink slime or lab-raised hamburger. I’d take a taco over a pork-fed fish fillet any day, and I’m an ancient Baby Boomer without a handheld device.

Spend the three minutes to check out The Scarecrow.  It might officially cement this company’s status as a fast food chain with a brain.

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