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Pure imagination: Chipotle makes nonsensical attack ad against production agriculture

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

By now, almost everyone has seen the Chipotle Mexican Grill commercial.

You know, the one with a sad scarecrow in a dystopian future rebelling against mass processed food by opening his own wholesome “Chipotle” style stand, all while Fiona Apple mournfully croons “Pure Imagination” in the background.

This is supposed to be Chipotle’s profound statement about today’s food production and big agriculture.

It’s not.

It is strategic marketing gone awry. It is irresponsible and baseless. And it is mostly about making money for a business that requires a steady stream of customers. Let’s not forget the reason they’re playing Tchaikovsky on the viewers’ heartstrings is to sell more burritos.

More than 30 years ago, I worked in retail sales. The lessons I learned in marketing are as true today as they were then: 1) Know your audience; 2) Gain attention for your products; 3) Highlight what you do best; and 4) Sell. Sell. Sell.

Chipotle is capitalizing on our society’s growing association of farm products popularly labeled “free-range,” “organic” and “all natural” as healthier. So in leveraging this easy target, they laid waste to the facts.

Six million YouTube views and a tsunami of free publicity later (worth millions of dollars), you have yourself a successful advertising campaign, a dangerous, reckless advertising campaign. 

I wish I could just walk away and say: “This is merely a cartoon, and everyone clearly sees it as the shallow ploy that it is.”

But reading the comments on this video, I can’t. It worked. It gained excessive attention. Those people who are separated from the source of their meals and food are buying into these messages, which are simply pure imagination. Blindly, they accept that this is how their food is produced.

The commercial shows cattle and pigs on factory conveyor belts being liquefied and served to children. Another shot shows a chicken being plunged with a caulk-gun-sized syringe that inflates its size. Dairy cows, with sad puppy dog eyes, are milked in metal boxes in a dark factory.

This horrifying misrepresentation will permanently shape perceptions about agriculture for those who have little connection to their food. They will believe this is how their food is made. They will never know the pride, skill and endless effort our agricultural producers demonstrate every day to produce the highest quality and safest food supply in the world.

And, of course, the company’s solution to this contrived problem is the individual garden of the oppressed scarecrow. From which a burrito empire can be created.

Instead of an honest dialogue about food production, this video opted for a scorched earth approach. Facts about food production be damned. They demonized all producers, large and small, and related entities that work to feed us. They tore down agriculture just to build up their own image.

We—as a society—have to arrive at this conclusion: there is room at the table for all types of agriculture in this world. In fact, we’re going to need anyone willing to pick up a shovel to feed the burgeoning global population. We have to stop throwing elbows at each other and work together.

Here’s the bottom line: The ad is a gross overreach. It’s a perversion of fact. And it’s damaging. But it is dang good marketing, and it will probably make them more money. Sad.

They’ve traded in a chance to discuss the real issues surrounding agriculture—lack of research funding, an aging producer population and tighter government restrictions—for a cheap buck.

Sounds like something a big company would do. Maybe we should make a commercial about that. I wonder if Fiona Apple is available for the soundtrack?


Bill Buckner Bill Buckner (wbuckner@noble.org)
President and CEO of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation www.noble.org | Twitter | Facebook

View more posts by Bill Buckner

3 comments on “Pure imagination: Chipotle makes nonsensical attack ad against production agriculture”

  1. Allan Johnson
    Posted Wednesday, October 02, 2013 at 5:26:22 PM

    Terrific response Bill. I can understand the marketing department teeing up this message, but that is why there is a CEO that is supposed to be more responsible. Evidently that is not the case at Chipolte.

  2. Craig Agnew
    Posted Tuesday, October 08, 2013 at 7:42:01 PM

    Fantastic article

  3. Steve Stucko
    Posted Monday, October 12, 2015 at 12:37:39 PM

    Agree with it or disagree with it the ad is only "nonsensical " for those that refuse to look at real issues facing both sides of the controversy.
    This piece did nothing for defending the premise of article, all it did was poke fun and paint the contents of the ad as simply being about marketing, without addressing the issues the ad is focused on. It in itself is simply the marketing of your message through poor "journalism".

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.