Chipotle’s advertising has frequently walked the line of being just a bit dirty. Its turgid burritos stand five feet tall above freeway off-ramps, eliciting mouthwatering responses without even showing a sliver of a flour tortilla – an almost burlesque-like feat of marketing.
But as good as Chipotle’s marketing has been, it couldn’t maintain the chain’s numbers after the brand got really dirty – as in multiple E. coli scares in 2015.
The brand is looking for a new agency to help put a shine on its tarnished reputation.
It’s also been making a lot of changes.
Upgrading “Fresh” Mex
One of the most significant changes is in how Chipotle handles its food safety. Now, fresh produce is washed multiple times, some are blanched, all are tested for contaminants.
In-restaurant technology is getting a boost too, with in-store digital tablets that make ordering easier (without person-to-person interaction), and second “make-lines” to expedite online and catering orders.
Essentially, they’re putting more emphasis in improving the customer experience, which is very in-line with the brand’s history. But that’s not all they’re doing.
Another significant change is a real surprise: After four years of not advertising on television, Chipotle has begun running TV commercials in test markets, and is considering a national TV buy.
In a 2012 Business Insider article, “How Chipotle’s Business Model Depends on NEVER Running TV Ads,” writer Jim Edwards reported that the company spent “almost nothing on advertising” (roughly $6 million nationwide in 2011). Chipotle’s annual report was quoted as saying, “Our marketing has always been based on the belief that the best and most recognizable brands aren’t built through advertising or promotional campaigns alone, but rather through all of the ways people experience the brand.”
Its main method of promotion has been, until recently, word-of-mouth publicity. Which worked well in 2010 when Oprah invited Chipotle founder Steve Ells on her show and told him “We need more of you.”
Word-of-mouth worked less well in 2015 when all people were talking about was the E. coli scare that affected 14 states.
Revenue declined 14.8% to $1 billion in its third quarter, same-store sales fell 21.9%, and Chipotle is faced with the challenge of winning back America’s trust.
And to do so, they’re doubling their marketing and promotional spend.
Food with Integrity
Chipotle is going back to its roots in a way by focusing their latest marketing on the quality of their ingredients. Its new online video series is titled “Ingredients Reign” and highlights responsibly raised meats and fresh vegetables (the spot was created by GSD&M).
A Closer Look at the Fast Mexican Food Market
We did some research into a category we’re calling Fast Mexican Food consumers – excluding Chipotle fans to better highlight the differences between Chipotle’s diners and the broader demographic. And we found some interesting insights, the most important of which is: They’re very different.
Chipotle truly isn’t just another Fast Mexican Food chain. In fact, fast Mexican food consumer metrics overlapped Chipotle’s consumer metrics by just 57% in terms of their interests. Common interests included being “foodies” (with a high interest in snacks and food to go) and new technology (Chipotle’s audience doesn’t score quite as ‘nerdy’ as other Mexican food consumers).
But from there, Chipotle’s audience really differentiates itself from the rest of the market in its category.
Find out more about Chipotle’s agency review, its backstory, and Fast Mexican Food consumers in our new Chipotle Pitch Brief. And if you want to take a deep dive into Chipotle’s audience, get your Free Trial of our consumer insights suite here.