Word of Mouth

Chipotle unveils Back to the Start, a short film about sustainable farming

In the nearly two decades since it first debuted on East Evans Avenue in Denver, Chipotle has run dozens of successful and creative advertising campaigns, reinventing radio spots, billboards and the very idea of word-of-mouth marketing.

Now the company has made a movie -- a very short movie -- in hopes that the silver screen will help the burrito-monger better communicate its views on farming and sustainability.

With the help of London-based director Johnny Kelly, the Denver-based fast-casual chain has created Back to the Start, an animated film set to a Willie Nelson cover of Coldplay's "The Scientist" that depicts a farmer's decision to use factory-farming methods and then return to the sustainable, natural methods he'd started with.

This is why I liked working for this company: Like the best of Chipotle's marketing, the spot is quirky, emotionally engaging and pretty cool -- no graphic PETA-like pictures, no preaching, just some funny-looking cartoon pigs and people that manage to communicate the point of raising food the right way better than any advocacy brochure we've ever seen. "One of the animators worked on the Wallace & Gromit film, and has a really interesting attention to detail," explains Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle. "It's visually a light way to tell the story that's pretty heavy."

And that was the goal, since the company wants to use the film to feed consumers some weighty facts. "The film really illustrates the difference between industrial factory farming and sustainable farming methods," says Arnold. "We hope the film will help people see the differences and choose food that comes from sustainably raised sources."

Or, as CEO Steve Ells states in a press release: "We produced this film to help illustrate the choices people face in deciding what to eat, and hope that it will encourage people to choose food that is raised with respect for the land, the animals, and the farmers that produce it."

The imagery also details Chipotle's approach to selecting sources, seeking out farmers who, like the farmer in the video, have made conscious decisions to "go back to the start," as suggested by the lyrics, and raise food sustainably.

And speaking of that song, the special Willie Nelson cover is available on iTunes and, as a bonus, sixty cents from every download will go to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, which was set up to fund initiatives surrounding sustainable agriculture, family farming and culinary education.

Chipotle plans to show the short before feature films at 5,700 theaters across the country. The company is also airing it on its website and Facebook page.

Here's the video:

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk