Chipotle Mexican Grill has long been renowned for disrupting the status quo. They are, paradoxically, a fast–food chain with a stated commitment to “changing traditional ‘fast food’ culture.” They are opposed to the mistreatment of the animals raised by the beef, pork, and chicken industries, yet they advocate that meat be produced from “naturally raised” animals, whom they define as pigs, cows, and chicken who have been “fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones, and allowed to display their natural tendencies.” And although their rapid growth from 1998 and 2005 – from sixteen restaurants to over 500 – was largely fueled by investment from the McDonald’s Corporation, their most recent initiative, the Scarecrow advertisement, appears to deliver a biting satire of their former parent company’s production methods.
The Scarecrow advertisement is a three-and-a-half-minute long animated film produced in conjunction with the Academy Award–winning Moonbot Studios. It is aimed at advertising Chipotle’s new “Scarecrow Game” app, which urges users to nurture their own vegetable gardens, free caged animals, and provide nutritious, wholesome food to the inhabitants of a fictitious town named Plenty, while avoiding the menacing Crowbots.
The film opens on what initially appears to be a rustic, serene farmyard. The camera then pans back, and this tranquil scene is revealed to be a mere façade painted into the wall of a large barn–shaped building bearing the logo “Crow Foods.” The protagonist of the film – a cheerful scarecrow – steps forward. Guided by the upbeat, jaunty lyrics of “Pure Imagination,” sung by Fiona Apple, we follow him into this building and watch him as he comes face–to–face with the grisly reality of factory farming.
We see piles of dubious brown sludge being packaged into a neat box and stamped with the label “100% beef–ish.” We see these boxes being transferred out of the building and distributed to children via a large conveyor belt. We see a chicken being injected with hormones and a cow imprisoned in a cage so small that she cannot move. As the dismayed scarecrow makes his way back to the little barn he calls home, he catches sight of a billboard advertising “farm fresh” Crow Foods products “feeding the world.” As he stares
at this billboard, a pack of sinister robotic crows flit through the sky, cawing triumphantly. Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, explains the scarecrow imagery thus: “[in the film] the crows control the scarecrows. It’s a parallel of the industrial food system in the U.S., which is upside down.”
In this world of evolving consumer habits and preferences, it could be argued that Chipotle represents a bridge between the monolithic fast-food corporations such as McDonald’s and Burger King, and smaller ventures that embrace ethical principles. It aims to accommodate all food preferences and be all things to all people. Chipotle appeals to those who are making gradual, tentative adjustments to their diets – people who are not yet ready to live by vegetarian or vegan principles, but are beginning to put a greater deal of thought into their food choices, and the impact that these choices have on animals and the environment.
Watch the ad below: