Chipotle Farmed & Dangerous

- in CASE STUDIES, The Drum
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Over the past few years, consumers have become more and more concerned about how their food – particularly fast food – is made and where its ingredients come from. For example, a New York Times 2013 poll revealed that three-quarters of respondents expressed concern about Genetically Modified Organisms in their food.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is committed to ‘Food With Integrity’. In its restaurants, Chipotle serves food made from the very best ingredients, raised with respect for the animals, environment and farmers. The company believes that the more consumers know about their food and where it comes from, the more likely they would be to choose a restaurant like Chipotle.

The company decided that it needed a new marketing campaign to change consumers’ attitudes towards fast food, with the underlying aims to increase affinity with existing Chipotle customers and attract new customers to the brand, thereby increasing sales.

Piro, an award-winning branded entertainment, content and storytelling creative and production studio, was invited to the table to meet this challenge – and added another one: to see if the campaign itself could somehow be ‘sustainable’ in its own right, generating revenue that could be used to offset its costs.


Chipotle’s and Piro’s insight revealed that, in order to change the way consumers think about and eat fast food – and make them seek food made with higher quality, sustainably developed ingredients – they would need to be made aware of the larger issues of industrial farming and food production.

This led Chipotle and Piro to develop a campaign strategy centred on values rather than product. The content was to target people aged 14 to 44 who are socially aware and interested in issue-driven entertainment. Chipotle’s ‘Food With Integrity’ values, rather than product images and messages, would be integrated into the creative content, giving everyone – from the production team to the audience – a very strong sense of purpose.

The result was ‘Farmed and Dangerous’, a satirical web series that pits hero Chip, a sustainable farmer, against a group of people whose job it is to put a positive spin on the negative effects of industrialised farming. Created by an award-winning team from the world of film and TV, and populated with an equally stellar cast, the show uses comedy to unveil and explore the issues of industrial agriculture in an entertaining way.

Taking the strategy to focus on Chipotle’s values to what may seem an extreme, the series is ostensibly unbranded. The subtitle ‘A Chipotle original comedy series’ makes it clear that Chipotle is behind the show, but the emphasis of all the campaign content and promotions is firmly on the issues surrounding sustainable versus unsustainable food production.

In relation to generating revenue to offset costs, Piro negotiated a revenue share agreement with Hulu on ads streamed within the show. Ben & Jerry’s – a brand that shares Chipotle’s eco-friendly philosophy – even placed a specific media buy to run inside the show. In addition, Tricon Films & Television is currently selling Farmed and Dangerous around the world as traditional entertainment, and has already closed a deal in one foreign territory.

chipotle-open-letterDISTRIBUTION & ENGAGEMENT

Part of the creative strategy was to drive engagement through humour. The development of strong characters and use of top talent in the series also helped to raise the profile of the show and rally influential voices to spread the story.

In addition, Piro put considerable focus on arming the audience with information (such as ‘Food for Thought), so people could continue to learn about the issue and share information with their network. To support this activity, key opinion leaders were given advanced content.

Seven key media channels were used to distribute the campaign’s comprehensive smorgasbord of content.

1. Hulu series: On-demand TV channel Hulu was the campaign’s central media channel. Four 30-minute episodes of the Farmed and Dangerous show premiered on Hulu over a four-week period.

2. Teaser campaign: Chipotle released the show’s trailer on YouTube and secured a feature in the New York Times business section, timed to break with the Chipotle’s own news release. On the same day, Chipotle’s CMO gave the keynote address at a TV industry conference, which drove additional media attention. One of the show’s lead characters, Buck Marshall, also released a comedic full-page open letter in the New York Times (‘Open Letter to Everyone with Mouths’) where he made his absurd case for industrial agriculture. The letter encouraged readers to link to the campaign website. Buck then paid Larry King a visit, again blurring the lines between fiction and reality.

3. Hollywood red carpet premiere and Sunset Boulevard billboard: To capture the attention of the entertainment industry, influencers and bloggers were invited to the show’s red carpet premiere in Hollywood, which was supplemented by an influencer screening in New York and an online screening room. A promotional billboard was also set up on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

4. Huffington Post collaboration: Piro, Edelman, Media Storm and Chipotle created Food for Thought, a native advertising section for the Huffington Post website, which promoted Farmed and Dangerous through interactive content such as slide shows, surveys and social content.

5. Chipotle trivia and branded cups: To drive restaurant traffic, Chipotle launched an integrated trivia contest in which viewers could win Chipotle food prizes based on their knowledge of the Farmed and Dangerous show. On Hulu, Buck Marshall would interrupt every episode to offer a chance to win free food by participating in a trivia contest via SMS. In Chipotle restaurants, a million daily customers were handed F&D-branded drink cups, a Chipotle first.

6. Websites: Two main websites were created to host various interactive Farmed and Dangerous content. The campaign website streamed episodes of the show, hosted a trivia contest and enabled audiences to interact with Buck Marshall through Twitter. On Animoil, a fictitious ‘corporate website’, audiences were presented with a graphical summary of industrial agriculture.

7. Main characters on social media: The characters created for Farmed and Dangerous were given a life outside the show, through active accounts on social media. Piro tweeted from the account of lead character Buck Marshall and developed a strong following. Celebrities including Alec Baldwin and Mark Ruffalo tweeted about Buck and Farmed and Dangerous, and environmental photographer Bill Cramer regularly engaged with Buck.

All of these elements combined to drive awareness and social interaction both online and offline.



The Farmed and Dangerous campaign is an outstanding example of the power of values-based branded content marketing. Because the campaign championed an important social issue as well, the audience was an especially willing source of amplification, thereby leading to greater effectiveness.

The project demonstrates that advertising can learn a lot from TV in terms of the overall creative strategy. Through the trailer and premiere screening, Farmed and Dangerous in essence created a marketing campaign for a marketing campaign, leveraging much of the TV industry’s method. In addition, there was larger focus placed on strong characters and proven talent than there would tend to be in a typical advertising campaign. All of these creative approaches contributed substantially to the campaign’s overall effectiveness.

Farmed and Dangerous instantly became one of Hulu’s most popular shows in terms of viewership, engagement and approval. The pilot episode was one of the Top 5 long-form videos viewed on Hulu on its premiere day, beating many high-profile TV shows. It went on to become the most- watched brand-created series during a premiere week in Hulu history.

A Hulu post-wave viewer survey found that 93% of viewers watched at least one full, 30-minute episode in its entirety – far higher than the nine-minute average for watching TV shows online cited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s ‘2014 Original Digital Video study’. 89% of viewers watched more than one episode.

Farmed and Dangerous also received critical acclaim from a wide range of sources and won a multitude of awards, including the 2014 CLIO award for Branded Entertainment and Content, and three Cannes Lions for Branded Entertainment, Cyber, as well as being shortlisted for Effectiveness.

The Participant Index was used to find out if the campaign had changed people’s perceptions towards industrial agriculture, and if it had encouraged them to take action based on these changed perceptions. Farmed and Dangerous received a 97/100 overall Participant Index score, the highest of any form of media assessed by the index. It also received sub-scores of 99/100 for social actions and 94/100 for emotional involvement. According to the Participant Index results, “nearly 6 in 10 of those who watched Farmed and Dangerous … engaged in some kind of individual action.”

In line with the campaign objectives to offset costs, Farmed and Dangerous successfully generated its own revenues by selling advertising space within its promotions and selling distribution rights.
In terms of sales, Chipotle’s store revenues grew by a significant 16.8% or US$539 million during 2014, compared to its comparable increase in 2013 of 5.6% and the industry’s projected 2014 growth rate of 4.4%. Farmed and Dangerous is estimated to have generated a sales return on investment of 629-883%.

Most importantly, the popularity, engagement and approval generated by Farmed and Dangerous successfully changed the way people think about and eat fast food.

Farmed and Dangerous addresses issues that we think are important – albeit in a satirical way – without being explicitly about Chipotle. This approach allowed us to produce content that communicates our values and entertains people at the same time. This style of ‘unbranded’ content is, I think, the new frontier in marketing, with storytelling at its heart.

Mark Crumpacker, Chief Marketing & Development Officer, Chipotle; Executive Producer of Farmed and Dangerous
I hope Farmed and Dangerous inspires other brands to stand for something.

Daniel Rosenberg, Founding Partner, Piro; Executive Producer/Writer of Farmed and Dangerous

By using scripted humour, we were able to deliver sensitive messaging without being preachy. Advertising creativity revolves around a single message. Storytelling lets you make many points within a theme with the benefit of teasing people into wanting more – through plot and character.

Tim Piper, Founding Partner, Piro; Executive Producer/Director of Farmed and Dangerous

This case study was originally published in the 2015 Global Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM), co-edited by Justin Kirby and Greta MacFarlane.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.