After wiping my eyes over the sacrificial bovine and the poultry injections in Chipotle’s latest online video, “The Scarecrow,” I scratched my head and began to wonder, “But what does it mean?”
At first glance, the animated spot appears to simply be another dig at the industrialization of animal farms. It follows in the footsteps of Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” video from a few years back, in which a disillusioned heroine got fed up with the mass production of meat and decided to make a change to downsize and raise animals in a more natural and humane fashion.
But in “The Scarecrow,” a subtle yet significant variation occurs. The story pivots, and the scarecrow is seen driving to the city in a truck full of vegetables where he prepares what could pass for a vegan meal.
So is Chipotle switching to a vegan menu? Hardly. Sad-eyed cows and farm-fattened poultry remain for sale at their nationwide eateries. But the release of this film coincides with an uptick in vegetarianism and discussion about the environmental and health effects of eating meat – both in our society and in my own home.
After years of flirting with vegetarianism, primarily because of a belief that a plant-based diet was better for my body, I recently became aware of research findings that vegetarianism is better for the planet, as well – in terms of water consumption, land use and carbon emissions. But, despite all of this, it was the aspect of cruelty that finally moved me over the line.
It’s startling that a meat-serving restaurant is publicly recognizing this issue and has produced one of the most prominent criticisms of its own industry to date.
The promotion has, of course, instigated a mixture of befuddlement, praise and criticism. In all fairness, Chipotle could easily be painted as a fraud. They are making millions on meat. But while some are calling them hypocritical, I call them brave.
They appear to be facing, head on, something every truly sustainable business must: change. The reality is that, for most, sustainability leads down new roads. We could bury our heads in the sand and pretend that baby steps will get us where we need to go. But we can only trim so much fat before the time comes for a fundamental shift in doing business. Chipotle is leading with pro-vegetarianism messaging and possibly signaling a change they’d like (or plan) to make.
That’s the magic of this spot. So often we as marketers are subject to customer demand, supply chains and process limitations. We can’t champion something we are not fully committed to because we are terrified of being labeled green washers.
In that regard, this video is a significant experiment we should all be watching carefully. Chipotle is not really telling us who they are. They are sharing with us who they imagine they could be.