Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” Is a Recipe for Marketing Success

  Chipotles Scarecrow Is a Recipe for Marketing Success

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Chipotle for spicing up the fast-food wars with creative marketing.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Moonbot Studios have wowed consumers and advertising critics with “The Scarecrow,” a beautifully produced animated short film accompanying  Chipotle’s new anti-Big Food game.

The three-minute film, backed by a Fiona Apple track and described more than once as “haunting,” looks at a bleak world where people mindlessly ingest edible products supplied by “Crow Foods,” an industrial farming giant that secretly pumps up its chickens with hormones and stuffs its cows in tiny cages. The film’s hero is a scarecrow who realizes the injustice to all animals – both two- and four-legged – and establishes his own fresh food business, David to Crow’s Goliath.

Already hailed as “Oscar-worthy,” the short is a tremendous PR win for Chipotle – despite the fact that it shows the company’s name only once, at the very end. That’s very intentional, Chipotle Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker told USA Today, because the company sees its target diners as young adults who “are skeptical of brands that perpetuate themselves too much.” For that reason, Chipotle has generally avoided TV advertising and focused instead on more creative hooks, like this film and the game that is played on Apple products, to grab customer attention. With this campaign Chipotle has positioned itself as not only the thinking man’s Taco Bell but the healthier and more morally comfortable alternative to most fast-food options.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to Chipotle for spicing up the fast-food wars, too long the domain of gray hamburgers, factory farming, and boring commercials.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know what your customers want – and what they don’t. Chipotle’s campaign may seem unorthodox, but the company didn’t blindly speculate about what their patrons might like. They expertly blended their target demographic’s entertainment, idealogical, and tech preferences with the company’s well-established core message: our food is fresh and from sustainable sources. Where they took chances was in creative expression, and for that they partnered with an award-winning graphics studio and singer to tell their story. For Chipotle, “The Scarecrow” is a recipe for successful marketing.

McDonald’s Budget Tool Doesn’t Add Up

 McDonalds Budget Tool Doesnt Add Up

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for McDonald’s.

An attempt by fast food giant McDonald’s to help employees manage their finances has left a bad taste in workers’ mouths. The burger chain is being grilled this week for a sample budget contained in its brochure “Practical Money Skills,” part of a financial literacy program McDonald’s created with Visa and Wealth Watchers International. The budget suggests that an individual who makes $1,105 a month after taxes – about what a McDonald’s minimum-wage worker brings home – would need a second income of nearly the same amount to pay for basic monthly expenses. And even those expenses are debatable: the budget assumes rent or mortgage of a mere $600, health insurance for $20 a month, and a daily spending goal of $25 from which, presumably, things like gas, food, and child care are all supposed to be drawn.

The problem is not that the budget isn’t realistic; it’s that it is. McDonald’s inadvertent message to its workforce is, without a second job, you probably can’t survive on what we pay most of you. And that’s exactly what its workers have been saying in protests across the US. The project’s PR folks clumsily compounded the problem, saying it was only a sample budget (so it wasn’t meant to be accurate?) and that the “second job” was a theoretical partner’s wages (quite an assumption, and all the expenses appear to be individualized). McDonald’s also surreptitiously added in $50 in heating costs after the original plan presumed workers in chillier climates would simply shiver through the winter.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for McDonald’s, which is already fighting wage-related battles with employees in several states. This blunder gives workers some fine ammunition.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: All communications are public relations. The line between internal and external communications is effectively gone; all company materials must be looked at with a critical eye for the PR impact they might have. Most large companies have already learned this lesson – some the hard way – but still don’t understand it applies well beyond the company-wide memo from the CEO. As McDonald’s found out, even such well-intentioned projects as a financial planning tool for workers can cause reputational indigestion.

Burger King’s Big Fat Risk

The New Burger King Bacon Sundae 300x205 Burger Kings Big Fat Risk

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King and their new bacon sundae.

While the controversy about America’s out-of-control obesity epidemic rages unabated Burger King is cheerfully hitting the headlines with a revamped summer menu. What’s new and exciting? A bacon sundae.

The world’s second-largest hamburger chain is offering vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles, and a slice of bacon. The salty-sweet bacon sundae has 18 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and approximately 510 calories.

Burger King has not yet made it clear how this new “summer only” product launch, works with an earlier campaign that had the chain targeting a broader demographic. With much fanfare, that menu was then expanded to include fruit smoothies, wraps, and salads.  Take the summer off,  Burger King now seems to be telling weight-conscious America, and relax . . . with a bacon sundae.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Burger King. New launches like this undermine claims that the industry is dedicated to helping solve the national obesity problem. Why not mitigate by coming out with a new lo-cal smoothie at the same time?

PR Takeaway: Actions needs to mirror words. If the fast food industry wants to be taken seriously and viewed as friend, not a foe, in the health debate, then it would be better to stand behind the wraps and smoothies they rolled out earlier. The bacon sundae is bound not to win over health advocates. Any more of these launches, and Burger King could find itself fighting the unloved corner in the national conversation about obesity. Just ask Big Tobacco what that feels like.

What’s your PR Verdict on BK’s bacon sundae? Tell us by leaving a comment, below.

PR Verdict in the news: Today’s NY Times quotes the PRV re Goldman Sachs, click here to see what we had to say.