A riveting case study on saying no to advertising
A view from Danny Rogers

A riveting case study on saying no to advertising

Having recently sung the praises of traditional TV, albeit an evolved model, it's important to posit an alternative view of filmic communication in 2014.

McDonald’s has been a great TV advertiser. Just ask Leo Burnett. The restaurant spends $2 billion a year on global advertising. The ads have become so effective, and localised in their creative approach, that we have seen a decade of consistent sales growth. Many Britons now see McDonald’s as a modern "British" brand.

But what if you’re operating on smaller marketing budgets? What if you want a subtler approach?

Chipotle, which sells "healthy" Mexican food, has a turnover that is a fraction of those golden arches. The fast-food chain – in which McDonald’s once owned a majority stake – is eschewing traditional advertising.

Instead, Chipotle has backed branded content via niche media. Two years ago, the brand’s much-acclaimed "the scarecrow" film on YouTube highlighted its ethically sourced ingredients. And Chipotle has just launched a comedy "mini-series" called Farmed And Dangerous on Hulu. The four-part satire on industrial farming, the mainstay of Chipotle’s ad strategy this year, cost only $1 million to make. Ambitiously, the show sits alongside conventional dramas and features no branding.

It’s difficult to see how Chipotle’s latest content would convince reluctant Brits to buy more £6.50 burritos

Chipotle’s chief marketing officer insists the chain – with just 1,500 outlets – has no choice but to adopt this cost-effective, stealth-marketing approach. But Chipotle’s approach is actually smarter because of the inherent challenger brand positioning.

If you have ever eaten in Chipotle in New York, you will have experienced the almost cult-like atmosphere, which now means 40 outlets in the city, crammed with workers spending $10 each on fast food. The brand already has a stock-market value of $15 billion. All very well. But is this approach – like Chipotle’s famed sourcing – sustainable? Will shareholders – and, indeed, creative professionals – see the breakthrough returns they expect?

This week, the latest films get a lukewarm response from the accomplished creative Peter Souter, and one wonders how Chipotle will measure the initiative’s success. Chipotle’s handful of outlets in the UK are not yet buzzing and it’s difficult to see how the chain’s latest branded content would convince reluctant Brits to buy more £6.50 burritos.

We are forced to return to some of the old adages of advertising. Is the creative idea actually big enough? Is it good enough? Will it leave an emotional impact strong enough for the audience to change their behaviour?

If the answers prove to be negative, this campaign becomes just another piece of clever promotion rather than an inspired piece of persuasion.