Chipotle's 'Scarecrow' Walks Fine Creative Line

I understand that there is pressure on brands, and the agencies that serve them, to create Cool Internet and Mobile Things. Just look over there - the immediate competition has one. So does that company who's sort of in the competitive line of fire, like the way that movies vie for mindspace with video games and meditative strolls in the park. And did you see that thing what's-his-face did with the kitten and the Lego Oprah? Just awesome. Why doesn't everyone have something like that? Really, Wilson, you better start taking your job more seriously.

Thus hearty mazel tovs are in order for the creative folks in and around Chipotle, who have created one of the most distinctive pieces of content in the history of the genre. I have never seen anything like "The Scarecrow," at least not in the world of brand video. The animated clip, in which a scarecrow worker drone rejects processed foodstuffs in favor of farm-certified ones, is one part Tim Burton sad-loner quirkfest and one part dystopian agri-nightmare. It is, in every sense of the word, unique. "The Scarecrow" fills me with something akin to hope - hope that more brands will soon be unleashed to create content of similar artistry and ambition.

It also fills me with dread, to the extent that it almost serves as an anti-ad for Chipotle. Imperious propellered crows? Chickens pumped plump with steroids? Vacant-eyed cows stashed for slaughter? Gaaaa! These are not things I care to think about. I don't demand moral certainty in the labeling of the food I consume; I just want something tasty and, ideally, non-toxic to shove down my facehole while watching football.

"The Scarecrow" begins with its titular character heading off to work at Crow Foods International, a darkly lit factory criss-crossed by endless conveyor belts. He despairs as he tours the premises, saddened by the waste and deceit (especially in "farm-fresh" labeling). Then he goes to the top of one of Crow Foods' buildings and sees a bunch of sad cows. Then he takes the train (no fan of gas-guzzlers, he) home to his non-factory farm, has a brainstorm, starts growing all kinds of peppers and whatnot, loads them in his truck, heads into town, pumps a burrito full of the sanctified product of his toil, sells it to a kid and brightens when the kid enjoys it.

Subtle, right? Just because the clip looks so different from anything we've seen doesn't mean that anybody bothered to properly calibrate the tone of its pitch.

[Way off-topic: In the isolated corner of the Internet where individuals impose judgments on one another, Fiona Apple is taking heat for having covered "Pure Imagination," from the magical, creepy, non-Tim-Burton version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, to serve as the soundtrack for this clip. Whether or not her version is lovely and haunting (spoiler: it is), it amazes me that we're still having the sellout/not a sellout debate. Once again: There are very, very few performers on the planet who can embody the ideals of commercial purity that we impose on them. Maybe Fiona Apple needs the cash, or maybe Fiona Apple likes burritos, or maybe Fiona Apple's brother-in-law works for Chipotle. It doesn't matter. Let's find something more interesting to yell about, like the aerobic benefits of twerk-outs.]

Anyway, "The Scarecrow" is supposed to affirm Chipotle's brand identity ("our food is fresh - in the good way, not in the insolent-teen-mouthing-off-to-old-people way") and make viewers reevaluate their dining decisions. What it does instead is depress, haunt and unease. It's a small and confusing mandate I'm proposing here - be creative but don't be too creative - but that's the reality of what brands hoping to distinguish themselves with edgy brand content now face. "The Scarecrow" proves just how hard it is to walk that line.

5 comments about "Chipotle's 'Scarecrow' Walks Fine Creative Line".
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  1. Fred Cunha from Extreme Reach, September 19, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.

    You should watch the Funny or Die version of the scarecrow video: "Honest Scarecrow" ... it's a lot funnier:

  2. Brian Stemmler from Stemmler Productions, September 19, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.

    Do we know that this video was custom ordered by Chipotle? The way it's produced, it could have easily been for any organic food brand. I don't have any "beef" with the content. The main problem is the shoes don't match the pants. Imagine if this had the Whole Foods logo at the end, it would be a better fit. I don't fault the Creative Director as much as the Marketing Director who greenlit the piece in the first place. Just as with any ad, it's important to know your brand, and your audience.

  3. David Carlick from Carlick, September 19, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.

    This is not for the person who just wants to stuff his face in front of the TV. This is for a growing segment of people who are concerned with where the food production in the U.S. is headed. Chipotle will score major points with that crowd, and accordingly, this is a very effective communication and positioning of the brand. Sorry that it is dystopian, but guess what? So is our mass food production industry.

    So, truth in advertising? Kind of.

    As to whether this is a Whole Foods ad, well, again, kind of. Chipotle has been constantly positioning as organic, quality ingredients and I believe their constituents do care about that. This is very consistent with their positioning and ongoing story.

  4. Matt Timberlake from Consultant, September 19, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

    Agreed the Chipotle short is moving and makes you think about food choices. If you want to see a true brand passion short have a look at what Sierra Nevada brewing has done here with 4 minutes of film.

  5. Frank Gallagher from F. J. Gallagher & Associates, September 19, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.

    This is more than just a video - it's connected to a smartphone game app that's also very well executed. When a player completes all five levels, the player receives an e-coupon for a free burrito at Chipotle. There's no TV, no radio, no print supporting this. It's a pure social media play targeting young people, who will now think of Chipotle as the ethical option in a crowded fast-food market.

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