News & Views

Farmed and Dangerous

by Contagious I/O
This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our customisable research platform featuring the world’s most innovative, creative and effective ad campaigns and marketing ideas

Burrito chain brings branded content to life with Hulu series

After conquering the animated content game, Chipotle has its sights set on something a little livelier: live-action television. The brand has revealed a trailer for a new, four-part comedy series that will air on Hulu starting on 17 February, called Farmed and Dangerous.

The series, which stars character actor Ray Wise (Twin PeaksMad MenHow I Met Your Mother), revolves around a nefarious company called Animoil that hopes to increase cattle production by feeding cows pellets made out of petroleum. An upstart activist, named Chip, campaigns to stop the company from tainting its food supply. Though the series is branded as an ‘Original Chipotle Series’, the burrito-making chain doesn’t figure into the series' plot.

Each of the four episodes will run around 30 minutes, and will be accompanied by a mix of ads, some from Chipotle and some from other brands. The series will be available alongside other network comedies, as a piece of what Hulu calls ‘brand-authored content’.

Farmed and Dangerous was produced by New York’s Piro, whose founder Daniel Rosenberg hopes the show will be extended for more seasons as well as overseas distribution. ‘Our goal was always to make more of these,’ he told The New York Times. He noted that the process of making the series differed very little from making a traditional television show, and that the show ‘is meant to strike large emotional chords — it’s not about selling burritos’.

Contagious Insight

Investing in farming-related content isn’t a new gambit for Chipotle. As far back as 2009, the brand offered free tickets to screenings of Food, Inc., a critically acclaimed documentary that exposed the worst practices of the US food industry. In 2011, the brand started creating its own content, with a stop motion animation called Back To The Start. That campaign was good enough to win Chipotle the first ever Branded Content Grand Prix at Cannes in 2012. It was followed in 2013 by a sequel short called The Scarecrow, which also had an accompanying free iOS game.

Farmed And Dangerous is Chipotle’s first foray into live-action branded film, but in many ways it’s the next logical iteration of the groundwork that has been already set down. Like the animated shorts, the Hulu series has a serious message that is delivered in a light way; there seems to be plenty of comedic moments in the series.

The brand is smart to focus on farming, not burritos – as it has in almost all of its content plays. Rather than sparking discussion around personal taste, the brand sparks discussion around corporate practices: an area where Chipotle clearly thinks it can win. It’s also smart of Chipotle to keep the brand out of the series itself, but for one brief mention. Other than the ‘Original Chipotle Series’ branding and a lead character named Chip, the brand seems to be largely absent. As we’ve seen with Intel’s The Beauty Inside, brands don’t need to be ever-present to reap rewards from quality content.

Hulu is a great medium for this sort of content play, especially since its recommendation engine can be tailored to suggest the show to viewers in specific demographics or geographic areas. Hulu itself has experimented with original content, and unlike competitor Netflix, the platform generally attracts a crowd looking for television-style serials, rather than longer films. Creating four episodes gives the brand enough runway to tell a real story, without sinking too much money into the creation. Each episode reportedly cost around $250,000.

Any time a brand invests in a TV series, we put it to the same litmus test: does it stand up on its own as good content, when compared to other television shows? The trailer doesn’t answer that question right away; the production quality is high, but the storyline may be a bit heavy handed. Still, the involvement of recognisable actors is a step in the right direction, and may be enough to attract a fair number of viewers. Then the question becomes whether Chipotle can keep people’s attention for a four-episode series.

In a sense, Chipotle has set itself up nicely for different levels of engagement with Farmed and Dangerous. Even if people watch the trailer and decide not to watch the show, Chipotle has essentially got them to watch a two-minute ad for the brand that hammers home its core principle. And when some people inevitably end up watching the series, the brand has a significant group of consumers who have opted in to learn more about farming practices and think more about Chipotle’s brand promise.

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O. Contagious I/O is our bespoke trends, inspiration, insight and analysis service, providing daily innovative marketing intelligence across a comprehensive range of sectors to brands and agencies across the world. For more information about Contagious I/O contact