21 Feb 2014
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Chipotle raises the bar - again

Farmed and Dangerous, a new four-part comedic series that launched on online TV channel Hulu last week, is garnering a lot of attention. The show follows a fictional agricultural company and aims to provide “a satirical look at the lengths the agriculture industry goes to manage perceptions about its practices.” 

So why all the fuss? The series has been created and funded by Mexican food chain Chipotle. 

The series follows fictional industrial giant Animoil, which has created a new petroleum-based animal feed Petro-Pellet, which promises to reduce industrial agriculture’s dependence on oil by eliminating the need to grow, irrigate, fertilize and transport the vast amount of feed needed to raise livestock on factory farms. However, when cows begin exploding as a result of the new wonder formula, Animoil’s spin doctor is called in to control the damage. 

The move marks the brand’s first foray into long form unbranded content, it has previously focused on short form branded entertainment such as its acclaimed Back to the Start and The Scarecrow .

Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle, and an executive producer of 'Farmed and Dangerous'. “Our goal in making the show was to engage people through entertainment and make them more curious about their food and where it comes from.”

“It’s not a show about Chipotle, but rather integrates the values that are at the heart of our business. The more people know about how food is raised, the more likely they will be to choose food made from better ingredients — like the food we serve at Chipotle.”

The series, which was produced in conjunction with New York studio Piro, stars Ray Wise (24, Mad Men, Twin Peaks) and Eric Pierpoint (Parks and Recreation and Big Love) 

“Brands need to make a decision,” said Tim Piper, a partner at Piro and director of “Farmed and Dangerous.” “They can either continue to interrupt entertainment, or they can inspire it.”

  • REVIEW
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Much like ‘The Scarecrow’ before it, 'Farmed and Dangerous is a no holds barred attack on factory farms and processed foods with an extension to also take a look at Big Agriculture and the corporate behaviours in the agricultural industry. 

However, while ‘The Scarecrow’ was an online film to promote an app-based game, this is a TV show, which is available to view in the comedy section of Hulu. 

This is legitimate entertainment content, created and funded by a brand. On paper this is the holy grail of branded entertainment. 

Despite the huge amount of excitement around the format it hasn’t really been done before. 

Jacob’s Creek’s Open series was scheduled within programming, obviously Red Bull creates hours and hours of content, one-off projects have come and gone predominantly all of the entertainment content that is created by brands, usually sits within its own media channels. 

Grey Goose’s Iconoclasts remains the standout example of branded entertainment, having won awards and screened at film festivals and on TV. While Grey Goose funded a wonderful and interesting series in Iconoclasts, which aimed to align the brand with innovators and risk takers, Chipotle’s ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ is something quite different. 

A satire that overtly pushes the brand’s positioning and messaging – the strategy here is clear: Why advertise around content that aligns with or resonates with the target audience, when you can create the content yourself and ensure it pushes all of the brand’s key messages. 

As Piro’s Piper said, brands can “either continue to interrupt entertainment, or they can inspire it,” or in Chipotle’s case they can just pay to make it. 

Chipotle said the aim was to present the issues it believes are important such as genetically modified foods, the abuse of antibiotics and the impact of big agriculture on the environment. 

While I am yet to watch the series myself, it’s pretty clear from the preview and the series synopsis that this message is coming through loud and clear. 

By all accounts the tone is similar to The Scarecrow, with the series employing a good dose of propaganda and a strong sense of manipulation to make clear that Chipotle is anti-factory farming and the companies who support it. 

Just in case viewers don’t realise that the series has been created by the Mexican food chain, Chipotle is running promo spots before and after the content. 

What is yet to be seen, though, is whether or not the series will hold up as an entertainment vehicle, or whether viewers will find it self-serving and manipulative? 

Elizabeth Weiss wrote in The New Yorker, “I wonder if it won’t make more viewers feel, well, a little icky.” 

“There’s something disturbing about a corporation hijacking our attention with twenty-two minutes of entertainment specifically engineered to make us want to buy something.”  

According to Time, the series “succeeds in terms of providing a few laughs and not coming across as the tiresome equivalent of a 22-minute commercial. Chipotle manages to spread its message more widely and effectively than it would by producing an earnest documentary on industry agriculture that no one would watch.” 

Chipotle is confident the series will go on TV at some point, unsurprising given the costs involved in making this level of content, which the brand has said were on par with “any other high-quality cable-TV scripted show”. 

In intention Chipotle have kicked a major goal, creating their own series is a ambitious move and no doubt one that other brands will be watching very, very closely. Will it pay off? Will audiences respond positively to the series and enjoy it as legitimate entertainment or will they switch off from the propaganda-style messaging. This is definitlely one to watch. 

  • VERDICT 
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Chipotle has launched an ambitious and impressive branded entertainment project, the proof will be in the viewing numbers and audiences response to the show. 

I give the strategic idea 4 stars. 


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