Will Americans sit through a two-minute animated film about the evils of factory farming before the movie they paid to see actually starts? And will Chipotle Mexican Grill’s sponsorship of it turn off more people than it turns on? We’ll find out soon, because advocacy ad vehicle “Back to the Start” hits 5,700 theater screens nationwide this month.
You have to hand it to Chipotle. The company knows how to make innovative use of media to keep its brand top of mind among consumers. In this case, it’s sponsoring a stop-motion animated film that proselytizes for the chain’s “food with integrity” stance.
The short film “follows the story of a farmer whose family farm has evolved over time into a factory farm,” says a Chipotle statement. “In a moment of self-reflection the farmer realizes that his animal factory is not consistent with his vision for the farm. The farmer goes ‘back to the start’ by ridding the farm of its factory qualities and returning to more sustainable farming methods.”
There’s not much hard sell about Chipotle. The company’s name and logo appear only near the end of the film. That’s when the farmer, who had been shipping semi-loads of animal protein in the middle of the film, hand-loads a single case of carefully nurtured product into a truck stamped with the Chipotle logo.
The film itself is more entertaining than this synopsis suggests. (You can see it at www.chipotle.com/backtothestart .) But just in case it isn’t, the chain hired legendary singer Willie Nelson to perform the soundtrack. Nelson is a natural ally for Chipotle in its small farms/sustainability campaign. He’s one of the founders of the long-running Farm Aid concert series, which has taken place each summer since 1985, and is president of the group’s board of directors.
Nelson was way ahead of the curve in working to support small-scale family farms. He’s also familiar with chain restaurant promotions, having been associated closely with the Texas Roadhouse steakhouse chain through much of its existence. His presence gives “Back to the Start” an appeal to a different demographic than the one Chipotle usually attracts.
But Chipotle isn’t overlooking its primary customer base—18-29-year-old millennials— either. The song Nelson sings, “The Scientist,” was written by alternative rock band Coldplay. Chipotle is making this song available on iTunes for the usual 99 cents, 60 cents of which will go to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. This organization supports sustainable agriculture, family farming and culinary education.
“We produced this film to help illustrate the choices people face in deciding what to eat, and hope that it will encourage people to choose food that is raised with respect for the land, the animals and the farmers that produce it,” says Chipotle founder Steve Ells.
Will this effort gain Chipotle new customers, or at least reinforce its corporate values in the minds of existing ones? We’ll be eager to see how this gambit plays out, although we’re betting this mini-film will be a major buzz kill for theater concession stand sales in the meantime.