The Allure | Chipotle
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Treading down a path of writing about Chipotle should always give pause. Especially for such a music-centric site such as ours. As skewed as our coverage is, we like to think of ourselves as a media and marketing site as well—if nothing else, than insofar as it relates back to music. And if you're one of the almost six million people who have viewed Chipotle's animated short "The Scarecrow," than you know that for better or worse, this commercial is media happening worthy of writing about.
A project two years in the making, "The Scarecrow" was created by creative media company Moonbot Studios and tells the story of a disillusioned Scarecrow fed up with working for a Big Agriculture company called Crow Foods Incorporated. After a series of final straws that include seeing chickens injected with hormones and cows locked away in dark, confined spaces—a particularly arresting moment—the scarecrow takes the initiative to head back to his farm, cultivate a truckload of vegetables, and then take his harvest into the city to sell as a wholesome alternative to thinly-veiled versions of the Clown, the King, and the Colonel (as Anthony Bourdain likes to call them). Our straw-stuffed protagonist, it's revealed at the end, is 'cultivating a better world.'
Spectacularly animated, the short is guaranteed to land on advertising best-of-the-year lists. It's also paired with a soundtrack from Fiona Apple, who covers "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The combination adds another level of messaging that could generate a post all its own. Suffice it to say, Wonka was a savvy and cynical dude, Apple is an outspoken vegetarian and animal rights activist, and Chipotle uses the spot to make a bold claim to the superiority of its farming practices and its ingredients.
No surprise, "The Scarecrow" has caused its fair bit of controversy. Most, caught up in the delight of its sights and sounds, have showered it with praise. We side with this bunch. It's gorgeous. It's fun to watch. It's amazing to listen to. It's an ad. What more can you ask for? Well, a message you might actually want to get behind. Chipotle achieves this as well. The issue? Mr. Scarecrow is essentially espousing transition not just away from factory animal farming, but away from meat altogether. You'll notice those tacos he whips up never come near a chicken breast or a flank steak. So, the argument goes, the burrito behemoth is piggy-backing off a vegetarian philosophy without subscribing to one with it's menu offerings.
In the end, and according the number of Food Democracy Now e-mails we get condemning Monsanto, this is a big battle that needs to start somewhere. A company like Chipotle, with a bankroll that can get the message that there's a better way out to more than 5 million people with a superbly executed and entertaining advertisement is doing a good thing. Can we begrudge them for oversimplifying and wanting to turn a profit in the process? Let's not forget where we live. I'll give my lunch money to the scarecrow over those Kings, Colonels, and Clowns any day.