Over the last few weeks, I have seen a small controversy erupt among my Facebook friends, centered around the new Chipotle “Scarecrow” commercial. This commercial follows a scarecrow as he completes a day of work for a big food corporation. The viewer watches as chickens are injected with a green liquid that makes them grow bigger, and cows with sad eyes are hooked up to machines so that they can’t even move. Finally, the scarecrow returns to his home and his garden where he decides to serve his fresh vegetables as competition to the corporations. Que Chipotle logo.
Quite simply, the commercial is a terrifying over-dramatization of the food industry, encouraging people to eat at Chipotle because they alone serve fresh ingredients.
Now, Kansas State University is probably best known for the College of Agriculture. This means that many of the people that I interact with in Manhattan have grown up with a high exposure to Ag. A great example of this “exposure” is that the campaign I worked on last semester was for a new strain of wheat from the Kansas Wheat Alliance, 1863. As a result, people are not happy. One girl I know even declared that she will never eat at Chipotle again because of the implications that the company makes about the food industry.
Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communications director, addresses these complaints to the New Yorker. “The Scarecrow” is set in a world “where the plant is run by robotic crows,” he pointed out, “so it’s clearly a fictitious portrayal.” He said the film is meant “to highlight issues like the overuse of antibiotics, harsh confinement of animals, the extent to which food is processed.”
But it isn’t just the K-State Ag students who are upset. An article from the Washington Post summed up many other viewers thoughts when they said, “…if you didn’t know it was an ad for Chipotle, you would think it was an ad telling you to avoid all food ever that didn’t come directly from a cheerful cow passing you the milk herself and saying that she felt okay about it.”
In summary, Chipotle is using a tried and true method of shock advertising often referred to as “scare tactics.” Wikipedia introduces the method as something that, “deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends its audience by violating norms for social values and personal ideals.” This tactic is known to work because of the strong feelings it invokes in viewers, as well as the lasting impression that the ads leave.
Chipotle did overlook one thing. As pointed out by the Washington Post, the New Yorker and my friend Rebecca… the commercial basically compares the mistreatment of animals with homegrown vegetables. They nearly scare the viewer into to becoming vegan, an ineffective result since Chipotle uses meat as a staple in their food.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that Chipotle is making an effort to be more transparent with the ingredients they use, and I appreciate that they are trying to be natural. (Random fact: the claim “natural” is not regulated by the FDA, or anyone else for that matter. So anyone can use it without consequences.) Also, like most controversies that show up on this blog, Chipotle definitely got our attention.
The main point that I want to make is that the use of this kind of scare tactic is a risky move for a company. Any time you attempt to create controversy, it will be hard to control the reaction. Especially when information spreads like wildfire over the internet. Overall, I would be very interested to see how their monthly sales fluctuate because of this commercial.