INTEGRITY (Noun): “Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values” (Merriam-Webster). Chipotle Mexican Grill, a burgeoning chain restaurant founded in 1993 with 1500+ franchises across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and Germany with a net income of $278 million, boasts their motto as “Food with Integrity.” To the average person, Chipotle may seem like it is an innovative, successful company that cares about their customers and more importantly, farmers and animals. Heck, I thought so too for a while. They are indeed, innovative. And they are indeed, successful. But I argue that they do not care about farmers and animals in the way that they want consumers to believe. Chipotle first and foremost cares about increasing their sales and they will do whatever it takes to do so, even if it means through deceiving their very own customers. I am going to share with you why I believe that Chipotle has a false sense of integrity, based on my current graduate school studies and knowledge of strategic communication and the marketing campaign process.
I used to like Chipotle, I really did. Just looking at their burritos made me salivate. But what’s more important to me than a measly burrito, is understanding the message that an organization or company uses to market their brand- their true motives, their true missions and their true values. Are the messages that they portray to the public consistent with their internal beliefs OR do they disguise their ulterior motives with deceptive imagery to give the public what they want to hear, as a tool for ultimately increasing sales? I have morals. I do NOT want to feel cheated or deceived, especially for some sad marketing excuse.
A few years ago, Chipotle began an anti-conventional farming campaign. They released two creative and emotional, yet scientifically-inaccurate YouTube videos entitled “Back to the Start” and “Scarecrow.” These videos contain powerful imagery of cartoon animals being raised in contrasting environments. I am not going to link to the videos or talk too much about them because I am going to focus more on their current Hulu video series, “Farmed and Dangerous.” Plus I see no need to increase Chipotle’s viewership.
But basically, Chipotle is not stupid. They are aware that the general public is generations-removed from farming and that many people lack an accurate understanding of what happens day-to-day on farms. Farming does not look the way that it used to many years ago; it is more efficient, sustainable, regulated and safer than it was when our grandparents and great-grandparents were farming. The land is different today. The climate is different today. We have better technology today including milking machines, solar panels, and manure management and nutrition systems. However, the public often is not able to understand this from first-hand experiences, so they are more susceptible to being influenced by the media. The media plays a huge role in telling the public what to think about. This is called agenda-setting. Throughout the past few years, the media has actively instilled in our minds that we should be wondering about where our food comes from (and we should care about where our food comes from…I wouldn’t have created this entire blog otherwise!). That gave Chipotle the opportunity to step in and take advantage of us. Chipotle uses political communication methods referred to as framing and scare tactics in their videos. These are actions in which a group or organization creates messages in biased manners to scare their custumers, thus manipulating the end result in their own favor. Chipotle simply uses the public’s lack of knowledge about agriculture to convince viewers that conventional farming is inhumane, unsustainable and unhealthy.
Chipotle recently released the newest aspect of their campaign, the first of a four-episode Hulu series entitled “Farmed and Dangerous.” This first episode is just over 20 minutes long, and it is absolutely, sensationally, horrendous. It focuses on a make-believe animal feed company named “Animoil.” The company creates pellets out of oil, which they then feed to dairy cows and other species. Obviously, that would be a terrible idea and no farmer would ever do that for at least five hundred thousand different reasons. The cows in the video blow up. POOF. And then the Animoil management team ceases to care. Chipotle, is this supposed to be humorous? Do you really think that it’s okay to joke about living creatures blowing up? How is that being a caring company with integrity? Ask America’s dairy farmers how they would feel about their cows blowing up. I don’t think you’ll get too many laughs out of them. The only thing that I find even mildly funny about it is the fact that Chipotle’s sales by members of the agricultural community will be significantly decreasing from this point forward.
Oh, and if you are interested in learning more about Animoil, be sure to check out their website. You can even apply for jobs there! WHAT?! Yes, Chipotle has created a fake website, with fake employees, for their fake company. Stay classy, Chipotle…
Another fun fact of the day: Chipotle claims to support family farms and buy from local sources when they can. That sounds great, right? Well, they are deceiving you. Chipotle is a 1500+ chain restaurant. I would love to be enlightened and learn how tiny farms would be able to produce enough food for Chipotle’s market demand. And here’s the real kicker- did you know that 97% of America’s farms are FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED? That’s right. Yet, these are the same family farms that Chipotle is knocking down with their campaign. They are attacking the very own farmers that produce their food. This just doesn’t make sense to me. I asked one of my graduate school professors about it, and he explained that Chipotle is employing the “theory of awesome.” They are aware that the general public has certain opinions on conventional agriculture, and since at this point in time television commercials are useless for social media sharing purposes, YouTube and Hulu videos are a way for their message to spread quickly. Their message really isn’t very compelling to the general public, but it IS memorable and most likely costs less than other campaign strategies. And apparently that’s where the “awesome” factor fits in…people watch it and they think “hey, that was kind of an awesome video.” And then Chipotle is stuck in their head, at least for a moment.
But this still doesn’t explain why a company would actively strive to cut down the farmers that produce their food. Honestly, I truly think that the only valid reason is because Chipotle knows that they can increase their sales through deception and influence public mindset to associate positive feelings with their products. It’s marketability. And in this case, it is ridiculously messed up.
I could sit here all day pin-pointing each individual thing that is wrong with Chipotle’s website and missions, but I am not going to do that. Instead, I am going to urge farmers to continue sharing their messages and family stories with consumers. How hard they work every day to produce healthy and safe food for us, while continuously loving their most prized possessions- their animals. And if you are not a farmer, I am going to urge you to check out your local farms and see if you can set up a visit with them so that you can learn more about what farmers do every day for you, even on holidays and weekends. Like I said before, 97% of all farms are family-owned and operated. Farms just look different today for a number of reasons. And we would love to show you those reasons. Most farmers are more than willing to invite people out to their farms to learn what they do. How many of you invite random strangers to your office at work? I don’t (although no one has ever really asked me…should I be offended?) Farmers are, in my opinion, the hardest-working, most intelligent, most caring people on this earth. And I know a lot of doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, researchers, etc. No one compares to farmers in my mind. In the mean time, check out Dairy Farming Today for some great information on how America’s dairy farmers take care of their cows and work hard to produce food for your family.
I used to love Chipotle’s burritos. But do you know what I love even more? America’s farmers. Which is why I simply cannot support Chipotle any longer aka I will be buying my burritos elsewhere or potentially starting my own brand called Molly’s Burritos (I’ll probably stick with the former idea unless someone firmly believes in my business capabilities and would like to invest in me, but I really do not recommend that for your sake). This may sound bizarre to some of you who are reading this because Chipotle is known for being “Food with Integrity.” However, a company that strives to convince its customers that America’s farmers, the very same people who are producing food for the Chipotle brand, are viscous and inhumane, is NOT a company that I will support. Taking advantage of the general public’s mistrust and lack of accurate understanding of the food system is unacceptable and the opposite of what integrity is all about. Instead, Chipotle should team up with their farmers to help share our positive message. Chipotle may have a creative and strategic marketing campaign, but they do NOT have integrity, no matter what they want us to believe. Let’s all take a stand for America’s hard-working farmers and thank them for providing our families with a safe, affordable and abundant food supply. Now THAT is INTEGRITY. So who’s with me?
XO MollsyMoo (Yes, that’s an “S” in there. MollyMoo was already taken, dangnabbit!)
Side note (do I always have a side note?): I am actually so fired up and frustrated about this campaign that I am devoting one of my graduate school semester research projects to studying Chipotle’s campaign strategy and the effects that scare tactics have on customer loyalty after viewing the videos. I propose that customers who are involved with conventional agriculture will have decreased loyalty to Chipotle after viewing the videos, whereas customers removed from conventional agriculture will not be significantly influenced).