(Un) Branded Content: How Chipotle Is Getting Bang For Its Marketing Bucks
Where is advertising headed?
Just look at Chipotle.
The fast casual food company isn’t only making burritos. With a successful web series under their belt, they’ve become original entertainment producers now too. The pilot for “Farmed and Dangerous,” a satirical series about where food comes from, was one of the top five longform videos viewed on Hulu on its premiere day in 2014, Chipotle says.
“Advertising needs to understand storytelling a lot better than it does,” said Tim Piper, one of the cofounders of Piro, the video production company that partnered with Chipotle on the series. “And the entertainment industry needs to understand that brands can inspire entertainment, they don’t need to stand in the way of it.”
Audiences can expect more following Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” triumph, as the company is “exploring ideas” for future endeavors in the unbranded content space, said Danielle Winslow, a marketing representative for the Denver-based company. So why is Chipotle investing in content that doesn’t explicitly market the brand?
The secret lies in the internet. Consumers gained power over what they watched when they no longer had to rely on cable companies to program shows for them. The web gave more companies and individuals the power to create content. And now, there’s just too much of it. Audiences are siloed, and viewership is diluted by how much content is out there.
Marketing teams, television producers and news companies are all competing for a share of audience attention. Sure, if you pay for an advertisement to run before a video, you may get that video’s audience to pay attention for 30 seconds. But if you are creating the content itself, you’re getting 23 minutes of the attention of an audience that is aligned with your values, an audience that is more likely to develop loyalty to you, especially if they’re enjoying what you’re creating. You get to have a longer message, and you get to build a stronger relationship with your customer.
“The more people know about how food is raised, the more likely they will be to choose food made from better ingredients — like the food we serve at Chipotle,” said Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle and an executive producer of the show, in a press release to investors.
“It’s values-integration rather than product-integration,” Winslow said. “Chipotle’s marketing strategy is designed to make people curious about where their food comes from and how it is prepared. In order to help people better understand the issues surrounding industrial agriculture, Chipotle decided to develop content with a longer run time in order to touch on these complex issues in an engaging way.”
What Chipotle realized that other companies have not is that they have an easy way to market the entertainment property too.
“There is a big opportunity for brands to ensure they create great content, and if they do, there will be an economical way for people to see it,” Piper said. “For Chipotle, they have millions of stores and millions of customers, so when they put ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ on their cups, they’re getting millions of viewers that networks would kill for.”
Chipotle collaborated with Piro in developing the concept. Piro specializes in branded (and now unbranded) entertainment. Founded by marketing guru Tim Piper and seasoned producer Daniel Rosenberg, the two were approached by Chipotle in late 2011 to discuss an entertainment property around the message of where food comes from and how it is prepared.
“They were hoping that they could address this very serious subject matter with comedy because it is quite often being addressed in a very serious style through documentaries,” Piper said.
But after discussing messaging and coming up with some initial show elements, Chipotle handed Piro the reins. The teams at Chipotle and Piro spoke of their partnership with positivity, emphasizing how great it was to have both companies committed to creating quality entertainment.
“What we’re trying to do is get [brands] to go for content creation that people will actually seek out,” Rosenberg said.
His tip for companies looking to follow Chipotle’s model in creating branded and unbranded entertainment is to seek out good storytellers, rather than good marketers.
“I think that’s what’s going to separate these companies apart from the rest,” Rosenberg said.
Clara Ritger is an assistant producer at Green Buzz Agency. She writes and manages the GBA blog. Chipotle never gives her enough guacamole, but then, how much is really enough? Find her on Twitter @clararitger.