Chipotle Mexican Grill fans were perplexed by a series of strange, seemingly random tweets from the brand this past Sunday, July 21.
The tweets, which included both incomprehensible messages like "Mittens13 password leave" and seemingly one-to-one messages like "Hi sweetie, can you please pick up some lime, salt and onions? twitter," appeared to be a hack attack. After a few hours, Chipotle tweeted that it had resolved the "problem."
But on Thursday, Chipotle confessed to Mashable that the whole thing was a publicity stunt tied to its 20th-anniversary promotional campaign.
"We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people's attention and make them talk, and it did that," Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold told Mashable. "It was definitely thought-out: We didn't want it to be harmful or hateful or controversial."
As Marketing Daily reported early this month, to celebrate the anniversary, since July 13, Chipotle has been running an “Adventurrito treasure hunt" -- a 20-day-long series of puzzles and daily prizes leading up to a grand prize of free burritos for 20 years.
According to Arnold, Chipotle thought the fake hack-attack would fit well with the promotion, which includes planting treasure-hunt clues in "all sorts of things." (Clues are being offered in videos presented by high-profile Chipotle fans like Willie Nelson, and by going into a restaurant location and texting a receipt code to a designated number, for example.)
Arnold also reported that Chipotle's Twitter account added more than 4,000 followers on the day of the fake hack, versus its normal rate of adding about 250 followers per day -- and that the "hack" tweets were retweeted about 12,000 times, versus an average of about 75 retweets per day for the account.
Furthermore, he said that reactions to the stunt were "overwhelmingly positive," to the point where the brand is considering releasing a T-shirt bearing one of the bizarre, attention-getting tweets: "Please Twitter end Twitter."
The reactions from marketing pros have not all been so positive, however.
For example, Digiday pointed out a tweet from Y&R creative culturist Rick Liebling: "Chipotle is a brand about honesty and authenticity, faking a hack is off brand."
Another tweet, on R/GA's Twitter account, observes: "I'm OK with brands pretending their Twitter accounts have been hacked, if they're OK that I pretend to read their Twitter accounts."
In any case, Arnold told Mashable that Chipotle doesn't expect to pull a similar stunt anytime soon, since "it's certainly not a well you can go to often."