Popular restaurant chain Chipotle prides itself on its modern approach to marketing. It eschews traditional advertising tactics like TV spots altogether, choosing instead to use viral Internet marketing campaigns to appeal to the millennial generation. Sometimes these campaigns succeed. Sometimes they don’t.
One of the hazards of any password-protected program or website is that, if the user isn’t careful, their password can be compromised and their account can be hacked. In particular, this happens on Twitter with relative frequency: some nefarious person figures out another account’s password and posts obscene, inflammatory or simply embarrassing posts under that person’s name.
Companies and public figures in particular are frequent targets of hacking since they’re more visible, gaining the hacker more notoriety (or infamy) if they succeed. Earlier this year, someone hacked Burger King’s Twitter account, posting that they’d been sold to McDonald’s, along with insulting messages about the restaurant and its employees. Not long afterward, Jeep’s Twitter account suffered a similar fate.
Then in July, a similar thing appeared to happen to Chipotle. Their account started posting strange messages like, “Mittens13 Password Here,” “Find avocado store in Arvada, Colorado” and “Do I have a tweet?” Soon another message went up, stating, “Sorry all. We had a little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now! -Joe” The reign of hacker terror was over. But as it turned out, it never really began. The company later admitted that they had posted the strange tweets themselves, as a publicity stunt.
In some ways, this bizarre self-sabotage almost makes sense. When Burger King was hacked, it got people talking about the brand. McDonald’s made a public statement of sympathy for their competitor’s misfortune. And Burger King’s Twitter followers increased by around 30,000 people that week.
But on the other hand, “Someone attacked us and made us look foolish” is not a particularly reassuring message for a brand to send to its followers. And when the truth came out, many people criticized them for being dishonest, attention-seeking and crying wolf. While they did see a small spike in followers, reactions to the stunt have been mixed at best.
However, the fake hack has now been nearly forgotten. Instead, Chipotle has a new marketing campaign that’s got everyone talking. The Scarecrow is a three-and-a-half-minute computer-animated video released on the restaurant’s YouTube channel in September. It weaves a tale of a lone scarecrow in a dystopian world of processed, factory-made food products, trying to inspire a return to homegrown, sustainable foods. It’s set to a cover of “Pure Imagination,” sung by Fiona Apple and has been called “the most beautiful, haunting infomercial you’ll ever see.”
The video has been almost universally praised, and has already attracted several million views on YouTube. It’s beautiful to look at and makes a powerful social point. It also happens to be promoting a new iOS game, also from Chipotle. Both the video and the game have proven to be a masterstroke of content marketing. While technically ads, they present themselves as entertainment, which is generating its own buzz and which has a plethora of people seeking it out and generally talking about Chipotle. And unlike the Twitter Hack Hoax, it reinforces a positive message about the brand.
Content and social media marketing are still relatively new tactics, and there’s still plenty of room to experiment and take risks. Win or lose, Chipotle should be commended for taking these risks and exploring this new promotional frontier. If they keep going in this direction, they could become industry leaders in the field of online promotion for years to come.