There are many environmentally harmful habits I still need to stop (e.g., drinking pod coffee), but like many other tree huggers, I have become obnoxious about avoiding one-use bags. On days I forget my cloth grocery bag (most days), I can be seen wobbling through the streets of Los Angeles, precariously balancing a milk jug on top of a cereal box on top of toilet paper.
However, I recently encountered a paper bag I went out of my way to waste. After finishing a Chipotle burrito, I returned to the register for a to-go bag. Why? I was intrigued by the short story printed on its side, written by comedian, actor, author, and self-proclaimed lover of tacos Aziz Ansari.
Ansari wasn’t the only big name published on a Chipotle disposable. I saw a customer walk away with their tacos tucked into an Amy Tan story about ghosts. Another customer with a salad encased in a Paolo Coelho story.
Chipotle is tapping into the corporate content-creation trend, but its content is not permanent: it exists only as long as the burrito exists (unless marketing wonks like me hang bags on their walls). The temporary nature of the art speaks to its existence primarily as a mechanism to enhance customers’ Chipotle experience.
Los Angeles is the burrito capital of the world, and I can get a good burrito at a thousand places, but Chipotle is creating a unique experience. An experience that ties to their brand promise of “cultivating a better world” which they do through all facets of their business—from working with local farm suppliers who use antibiotic-free cattle, non-GMO ingredients to staging Cultivate Festival which combines music, art, and food to raise awareness of environmentally friendly food production practices.
The Chipotle initiative to put literary art on bags is aptly called “Cultivating Thought” and cultivate thoughts it did, on marketing and culture:
· Creating Culture: According to an article by my colleague Izzy Pugh, the most successful brands not only react to and assimilate with culture, but help create it. For Chipotle, teaming with Ansari, one of today’s most culturally relevant creators, to create unique, only-consumable-at-Chipotle content feels like they’re making a new cultural footprint rather than stepping into previously imprinted steps.
· Blurring of Content and Marketing: To some degree, marketing has always been content (e.g., Superbowl commercials), but it is becoming increasingly important to offer consumers something beyond marketing: a story that speaks to their “worldview,” as Seth Godin calls it, and that they enjoy consuming. A story that is consistent at all brand touchpoints. Chipotle’s stories published on bags are doing this.
· Ravenous Content Creation and Consumption: Is there more content because we are ravenously craving it, or are we ravenously craving content because there is so much to digest? Either way, content is exploding at the seams of currently standard content-dispensing media (TV, radio, internet). Chipotle's use of the disposable bag as a new means for sharing branded content speaks to the content craze, but also to its role in pioneering new modes of cultural expression.
· Changing Media & Measurement Landscape: A recent article in theHollywood Reporter discusses the changing landscape and definition of “television.” As TV is no longer just a big box in the living room through which people watch things, but video content consumed through a wide variety of channels, we are presented with the challenge of finding new ways to measure and evaluate success of content (e.g., TV ratings). If Chipotle’s bag stories catch on, will we soon be tracking paper bag readership?
· Gold-Fish Attention Spans: Ansari's bag story was titled “Two Minutes About My Toothbrush”; Coelho's, “A Two-Minute Alchemy”; Tan's, “Two Minutes About Ghosts.” According to a Microsoft study mentioned in Time, our attention span is now shorter than a goldfish's: 8 seconds. Two minutes is quite a bit longer than 8 seconds, but Chipotle seems to be acknowledging our lack of patience. And before I could tack up Ansari's story on my wall, Chipotle had released a new batch of content, knowing we're already bored with Ansari and need something new for our content fix.
While Chipotle’s bag art is exciting marketing and certainly got my juices going, I do wonder if eliminating environment-killing, to-go bags altogether would have been the bolder, more culture-creating move.