On a night when Whitney Houston’s death dominated the Grammy telecast, it took a commercial from a burrito chain to get me all misty-eyed. Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” ad is a seamless blend of music, marketing and morality. Best of all, the ad tells a great story – a story that is true to Chipolte’s own company narrative of gradually switching from factory farming to sustainable farming. It also breaks the mold in several notable ways. The two-minute spot is the chain’s first national TV ad, but Chipotle actually released the ad online in late August; it also aired in some 5,700 movie theaters. Beyond its approach toward conventional television advertising, Chipotle is a chain restaurant outlier in another notable way: the company does not employ an advertising agency. Chipotle has made a concerted effort in recent years to take its advertising in-house, and CMO Mark Crumpacker has said that traditional advertising has become less important to his company.
As much as it pains me to say this, Chipotle may be on to something with its “look ma’ no agency” approach. There is a real lineal feel to the “Back to the Start” spot. Through storytelling that feels both intimate and encompassing, Chipotle mainlines the message of sustainability right into the open artery of the consumer, and it travels to both the head and the heart. This is a spot that feels like it means something special to the company that paid for it, and as a result, Chipolte now owns unique, and beautiful, real estate in the crowded chain restaurant market. Check out this very insightful New York Times article on how the spot came to be, and also check out Chipolte’s other long-form ad, “Abandoned.” Listen for the Willie Nelson connection in that one as well.