Farmed and Dangerous: Dangerous for Chipotle?

By Paul Barron, CEO/Founder of DigitalCoCo, Foodable WebTV & the Restaurant Social Media Index

I am one of the biggest proponents of restaurants taking a dip into content development to deliver a message. The value of original content from brands has an unknown effect and performance that can impact a brand in many ways. The recent “Farmed and Dangerous” WebTV series featured on Hulu and YouTube is pulling out all the stops, with features from up-and-coming artist Rae (and some interesting dancer selections). Then you have Buck Marshall, an intriguing character that deserves an Emmy for his performance on the ‘Say No To GMO’ videos. He is sporting over 2,400 Twitter followers and seems to keep pace with the Twitter trolls with snarky comebacks, stats and info loaded with links.

Biting Into the Competition

Chipotle is taking a hard stance with hits on McDonald’s, Tyson Foods and just about every major food provider in the industrial agriculture game. Snappy scripts even poking fun at its own brand and marketing position is placing the series at the top of intrigue for me. While I am unsure of the long-term intent of Chipotle, the short-term impact of this new campaign is already showing some evidence of consumer confusion.

In the Restaurant Social Media Index, we review more than 60 million restaurant consumers each day that have more than 234 million social interactions with the top 7,000 restaurant brands on a monthly basis. The sentiment data that comes from this massive array of conversations has reached critical mass in understanding what’s trending. It also shows the ripple effects a brand has on consumers that engage brands on social media. Chipotle has held the number one ranking in the RSMI over the past two quarters and is performing quite nicely on overall brand sentiment with a top score of 80.96 out of 100 as the Most Loved Brand in Q4 2013.

Risky Business

Either this approach is a groundbreaking attempt at propelling the brand into something much bigger than burritos, or a trap that could spiral the brand in public opinion. The trend started months ago on the release of GMO-related products in major restaurant brands, including their own. Over the past two quarters, the sentiment data shows that consumers were actually engaging with the message that Chipotle had crafted as the brand that brought GMO issues to light. Over the past 30 days, we have seen a drop in brand sentiment of more than 7 points. This would drop Chipotle out of the Top 10 social brands in the RSMI if we scored the quarter today, a position they have held for quite some time. This is a radical move and one that we will keep a heavy watch over as the “Farmed and Dangerous” saga continues its tour of content release.

One thing is for sure: Steve Ells is taking no prisoners, and the brand is treading where no restaurant brand has EVER gone. This approach could be the future of what Chipotle has in mind for impacting not only the restaurant business, but the very culture of the food society that the brand impacted in Fast Casual over the past 20 years. In the Chipotle Effect, I talk about the evolution of brands that change society, similar to what McDonald’s did with the expansion of drive-thru and fast food. Chipotle’s mark may not be burritos after all.