Chipotle’s Scarecrow Ad: Transmedia Storytelling Win

Chipotle Scarecrow Storytelling

A while back, I criticized Chopotle’s efforts at brand storytelling.  It wasn’t a popular opinion (read comments) but I stood by it.  To a large extent, I still do.

I wasn’t criticizing the storytelling techniques employed by the brand per se as much as I was criticizing the intentions behind them. 

In a nutshell, I felt their message was manipulative and contrived.  Others including many American farmers feel the same way.

Putting personal feelings aside…

Putting aside my personal feelings about Chipotle’s intentions and the “sustainable” farming debate in general, I have to admit that the brand is masterfully shedding light on a topic that -they feel- is quite important to a lot of people.

As far as brand storytellers go, they’re up there with the best of them.

Chipotle recently followed “Back to The Start” with another blockbuster story, “The Scarecrow”.


Breaking Down the Elements of A Good Story

1. The Context

Setting the context helps place the audience in the story.

This story is set during a time when a monolithic industrialized farming operation, Crow Foods Inc., controls all food production.

The story’s protagonist (hero) is the scarecrow, a known symbol of crop (food) protection and  most likely a reference to Chipotle’s Founder.  He works for Crow Foods Inc.

 2. The Struggle

The struggle is a very important element of the brand story.   This is where the audience is looking for relevance to their own lives.  A good brand storyteller will cleverly establish empathy with the protagonist at this stage.

The Scarecrow is being forced to work and cover up for a company he does not admire. The story is about man’s struggle against the staus quo.  This is a storytelling genre that is known to work very well.

The antagonist (villain) is represented by the menacing mechanized crow (“Crowbot”) featured in many scenes of the story.  Crowbot is seen hovering above the sad and frustrated scarecrow to make sure he tows the line.

3. The Resolution

The resolution is a critical element in all brand stories.

If relevance and empathy are established (see above) , emotional connection with the the audience is established and behavioral change may be achieved.

Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” accomplishes this effectively.

The story ends with the scarecrow finally deciding to quit and start his own business based on sustainability and organic production.

Good Use of [Brand] Props & Audio Visuals to Enhance the Story

The use of music, and brilliant lyrics of Fiona Apple’s Pure Imagination and darkly lit factories, contrasted with the brightly lit  farms and country-side at the end is spot on for depicting the move from struggle to resolution and  enlightenment.

Moreover, the sound effects of the crow throughout helped create and build up the tension in the story.  The use of brand props (the Chipotle chili and burrito basket) is subtle yet effective.

All-in-all, masterful use of audio visual elements to enhance the story.

Transmedia Storytelling: Extending the Reach & Effectiveness of the Message

What I especially like about this campaign is its transmedia execution; Chipotle extended the brand message into a game app to allow interaction with the story and to further educate and build awareness about the negative implications of industrialized farming.

The viral ad acted like a mini trailer for the game app.

Where the ad ends with what happens next,  the app takes over…

“Help the Scarecrow rescue the City of Plenty from Crow Foods, the powerful industrial food corporation that has taken over the city.”

Chipotle Game App - Scarecrow

Watch what academy award winning Moonbot Studios, the animators says about the campaign…

Criticism and Drawbacks

While it’s a very well told story, I’m not quite sure it’s the right one to tell.  For starters its dark, bleak and gloomy.  Moreover, a holier than thou attitude is bound to make them more enemies than friends.

The big challenge for them now will be to continually defend the high ground they took.  This article about the GM ingredients in their menu is case in point.

Once they decided to put themselves on a pedestal, they were asking to get knocked down.

In a Nutshell…

Regardless of my personal (possibly misplaced) feelings about the history of the brand and their intentions, their continued efforts to tell a story they believe in and to educate the public about sustainable farming should be applauded.

Over to you…

Are you a fan of Chipotle’s Scarecrow Campaign? Share your views in the comments below or in our discussion group


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