Food Evolution, Food Revolution: Chipotle Steals Top Social Brand Spot from Taco Bell

After two reigning quarters as No.1 on the coveted Restaurant Social Media Index Top 250 list, Taco Bell has fallen. The brand has slipped off the minds of the more than 53 million restaurant consumers being tracked in association to social and digital engagement over the past quarter.

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Brands shuffle in and out of the top spot each quarter – Taco Bell, Starbucks and McDonald’s are the only other brands to hold the numero uno spot in the RSMI. What makes this quarter so interesting is that the top social brand of Q3 – Chipotle – is a fraction of the size of the three previously mentioned. Though they are at the top of conversation currently on social media, Chipotle Mexican Grill has been a star performer with customers with their claim to transparency and Food with Integrity. This has been the mantra of this brand for a while, which has kept them in the Top 10 in many instances, but never at number one. The video campaign that launched a gauntlet challenge to the industry’s food supply began in August of 2011 with the infamous Willie Nelson and the Back to the Start video that launched a revolution of truth. This video now holds more than 8 million views, a small wonder compared to Miley Cyrus and Wrecking Ball, but a wonder nonetheless for a restaurant-based video.

The Scarecrow video and its connected mobile game came out on September 11th of this year, and now has more than 11 million views. At the current rate of growth, this video could claim 50 million views over the next 12 months. This would be about five times more effective in views than Willie and the boys of the Back to the Start video. What's even more impressive is the massive social conversations that this video has started. In less than 30 days, Scarecrow registered more than 18.4 million conversations across 17 social platforms. This is no small thing. In fact, it registered a social sentiment that equaled Red Bull’s Felix Baumgartner's supersonic free-fall from 128k feet  event. 35 million views later, this event actually had a lower sentiment rating of 87.6 for Red Bull than Chipotle had with the Scarecrow video coming in at 92.7.

Interesting news here is that Chipotle may have discovered, stumbled or strategically started something here with the Scarecrow video. If you focus on how the video affects audience to action, the impact has shown incredible performance. The video and the conversations around the topic of  “food that is good for you” during the third quarter improved in sentiment for Chipotle – an astounding 11 points! This has been unheard of in 16 quarters of the RSMI. What this really means is that content around brands has blurred the line of an ad vs. a story, and it’s clear that this is impacting store visits, referrals, and overall brand love from consumers on social platforms.

The wider effect from this effort by Chipotle is massive, with a 23% improvement in location-based actions over the past 90 days for the brand. This is the real ROI of what social can mean to a restaurant business with the right content. However, one side effect has been looming: there’s become a large increase in lack of trust with the restaurant business across 7,300+ brands in the RSMI. In fact, the RSMI has registered the lowest overall trust ranking in over two years and the lowest ranking in trust of food source in three years. The biggest impact? 29% of social consumers have increased conversations about eating at home due to their lack of trust of food sourcing from restaurants.  

Chipotle may have opened up a can of untrusting worms.

Data is showing some signs of restaurant visits slowing in 2013, and trust, value and overall experience are the lagging performers. Brands and restaurant operators must begin to tell the stories of value and trust, and focus on improving the experience that is not the Johnny-come-lately experience that everyone else is offering. This is imperative to get the needle moving back into the right direction for 2014.