Ray Wise in Chipotle’s four-episode comedy series “Farmed and Dangerous”
Chipotle, famous for waiting 18 years before bothering with its first TV ad, has taken the plunge into branded entertainment with the farcical Farmed and Dangerous, a comedy about an irresponsible agriculture company feeding petroleum pellets to cows with “explosive” consequences. It currently airs on Hulu.
It’s a bold move that doesn’t come without risk. What’s the ROI for a show that costs a million dollars to produce? Furthermore, Chipotle has opened itself up to even closer scrutiny than before about its own sourcing practices and may further draw the ire of other players in big agriculture who don’t appreciate the joke that is Farmed and Dangerous.
Which is why it’s a digital masterstroke.
The Long View
As a company that’s steadily aligned itself with responsible sourcing practices, Chipotle is banking on the growing interest consumers have in where their food comes from and how it’s sourced. Pretty soon, those consumers are going to start choosing sides (if they haven’t already) — which restaurants and grocers they buy from, and which ones they won’t. Chipotle wants to be among the consideration set– every company does. But not every company has effectively demonstrated they share in the concern over responsible sourcing. A show like Farmed and Dangerous helps.
Farmed and Dangerous likely wouldn’t be taken seriously if it a) took itself seriously and b) came from a brand with less credibility on responsible sourcing. Another chain food brand might have looked outright cynical attempting a show like this. Instead, Farmed and Dangerous seems like an authentic extension of a brand that walks the walk and has a history of transparency when it comes to their efforts.
The importance of Chipotle’s comedic approach to Farmed and Dangerous can’t be overstated either. A brand on its best behavior is still a brand, which means consumers are often resigned to their worst suspicions, especially when it comes to the fast food industry. They’ve been burned before.
A more serious examination of big agriculture might have appealed to the morbid curiosity in us all but more likely would have ended up disingenuous. Chipotle went with a more light-hearted approach that communicates self-awareness.
“Does Farmed and Dangerous fit the look and feel…?”
This feels like the wrong kind of question to ask about what is ostensibly a comedy first and a branded asset second. Once upon a time, Kraft brought us “Television Theater” in 1947. The “soap” in “soap opera” comes from P&G, famous producer of serialized melodramas. When it comes to television, there’s a well established model for brands as content producers; less so in digital, however, another reason a venture like Farmed and Dangerous raises eyebrows.
This much is true: Hulu, cutting its teeth on SNL and Family Guy re-runs and later on producing original fare like The Wrong Mans, is the logical fit for a brand looking to produce a comedy. In that light, Farmed and Dangerous is “native” to Hulu, and if every time a brand tells a story it needs to be characterized as “advertising”, then so be it. But what is Chipotle advertising? A strong point of view, which entails risks few brands are willing to take.
It’s sort of perfect that Chipotle is the latest brand stepping out onto the proverbial digital limb; have they ever approached advertising conventionally? Whether or not the show is “native” as a form of advertising undercuts what it actually allows Chipotle to achieve, which is just good ‘ole fashioned storytelling on a platform with an engaged audience.