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Farmed and Dangerous: An (Un)Branding Lesson from Chipotle

How did you first hear about Chipotle? Better yet, what compelled you to visit the restaurant for the first time? I can’t recall seeing a single ad, sign or tweet telling me to go to Chipotle. All I can remember is people making such a big deal about their love for the budding fast-food restaurant.

During New York’s Social Media Week Chipotle’s Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker metaphorically lit a branding 101 book on fire and left the audience’s mouths hanging open in awe as he demonstrated how (un)branding helps his company expand.

Unlike its competitors, Chipotle has a limited marketing budget and looks for alternative ways to have you crave a burrito bowl. Most recently, Chipotle launched “Farmed & Dangerous,” a Hulu series that takes a hilarious look at the agricultural food industry and an evil processed food company that attempts to fool the public about its client’s dangerous/unhealthy animal feed products.

And oh yeah, Chipotle’s name is almost nowhere to be found within the show.

Pause. Doesn’t that go against branding 101?

Why this (un) branding initiative can work

Chipotle’s mission, culture and general swag differentiates itself from its competitors. Although the show is an extreme version of reality (we hope), it is roughly based off popular discourse in the media and our society about the quality of food on the market.

Farmed and Dangerous sparks laughter and thoughts like, “Why won’t company (x) tell me what’s in their chicken?” or “Why is a different grocery item being recalled all the time?”

Chipotle doesn’t need to put their name on the series or tell you to find them for ethical food because of its strong reputation for delivering tasty and honest food. After the laughter is over, people who are moved by the show will have no choice but to turn to them if they want an affordable fast food option.

“Farmed and Dangerous” has sparked earned media attention and the show’s facts scrutinized by critics, putting Chipotle in the spotlight, garnering them even more awareness.

It pushes the industry forward, indirectly benefiting Chipotle

During this Social Media Week session, Mark predicted that in five years Chick-fil-A will buy only antibiotic-free chicken, something Chipotle has done for years. Instead of being intimidated or worried that a larger competitor is stealing Chipotle’s shine, Mark saw this as a win, pushing the industry forward. Since Chick-fil-A is a larger company than Chipotle, a big supplier will need to accommodate all that chicken, making it easier for Chipotle to get the products it needs.

What can marketers learn from “Farmed and Dangerous?”

Good content is good content, and good content is fun for people to consume. “Farmed and Dangerous” is a show that I will watch on my free time.  Instead of hawking Chipotle, burrito bowls and getting on a giant soap box about bad practices in food preparation, they created entertainment.

Here’s a little snapshot of the show that won’t spoil the plot for those who want to tune in.

When the villain, Buck Marshall, is questioned about how dangerous food preparation can kill innocent people, he responded, “People died from eating, not from starving, that’s progress.”

After that line, the roar of laughter from the Social Media Week attendees proved that this (un)branded show is entertaining and will gain a following. Did I mention that there’s an exploding cow? That’s television gold.

Chipotle sprinkles in cold hard facts about the agriculture industry, effortlessly mixed in with comedy. All businesses need to think about their audience and cater to their desires, not push out purely self-serving content. You can push your brand’s missions forward without shoving it down your audience’s throat.

How can it be measured?

Mark stressed “Farmed and Dangerous” isn’t a direct marketing tactic. He explained that they’ll measure how much earned media the show receives, as well as video views, but they’re interested in pushing their overall mission forward. Of course, this isn’t Chipotle’s only marketing initiative. Since the company is confident they can hit their goals with their traditional marketing, they’re open to being a little outside the box and diving in unchartered waters.

How will you (un)brand your marketing?

Want some branding tips? Get Vocus’ free Branding Rules eBook now!

About Adrienne Sheares

Adrienne Sheares is an enthusiast for all things social media. On the rare times she’s not on social media, she loves watching any cooking show and frequently pretends she’s a “Top Chef” contestant in her kitchen. You can find her on Twitter at @SocialMediaDC.

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