News & Views

Insight & Strategy: 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

We peel back the tortilla and see what’s inside Chipotle’s branded entertainment strategy

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

Each of the four episodes will be around 30 minutes long, 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’.

We caught up with Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold and Piro co-founders Daniel Rosenberg and Tim Piper to learn more about the insight, strategy and process involved in creating Farmed and Dangerous.

Obviously Chipotle has taken steps into the branded content world in recent years, starting with the Back To The Start spot in 2011. Why has the brand decided to do so, and how does Farmed and Dangerous fit into that overall strategy?

Chris Arnold, Chipotle: There are essentially three pillars to our overall marketing strategy: big-picture vision and values stuff likeFarmed and Dangerous, local marketing – we have a team of around 30 marketing strategists in major markets all over the country doing activities, events, sponsorships that are designed to engrain our restaurants in the fabric of the communities they serve – and then more traditional, top-of-mind advertising. To understand what we’re doing, it’s useful to have that broader context.

With things like Farmed and Dangerous, as a business we have decided to take on a lot of issues in the nation’s food system. Issues like the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming, the heavy reliance on petroleum in agriculture, the disappearance of the family farm. Some 300 family farmers walk away from their land every week. Through our sourcing, and support of things like purchasing meat from animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics and support for family farms and more sustainable agriculture, we are in many ways trying to tackle a bunch of issues that a lot of mainstream consumers don’t know are issues at all.

People don’t have a great understanding of where food comes from and how it gets to them. Initiatives like Farmed and Dangerous are trying to bring people into that conversation so they understand the issues in food and food production, or at least become more curious about the issues, so they will better understand the rationale for the decisions that we make.

It’s a two-pronged thing: on the one hand we’re talking about a lot of the things that are important to Chipotle as a business which guide our decision-making. But at the same time, we’re also trying to spark curiosity among people who might otherwise not be paying attention to these issues at all.

The idea was to make something that was first and foremost entertainment, because people pay attention to entertainment. It’s not a show about Chipotle – we’re not in it at all. We’re calling it a values integration rather than a product integration

– Chris Arnold, Chipotle

As far back as 2009, Chipotle was sponsoring viewings of documentaries like Food, Inc. What caused the switch, to say ‘Maybe we should be the ones creating the content itself’?

Arnold: Again, there are a couple of different things there. We love to support content like Food, Inc. We’ve also had a promotional partnership with another documentary film called American Meat, and we’re doing something now with a film called GMO, OMG. Our interest in supporting those projects is driving awareness of issues. When you have really good, thoughtful content that address the issues that matter to us, it’s important to us that people see it and pay attention. In many ways, it’s really great to have that content coming from someone other than us. No matter what we do, if it’s something that’s coming from Chipotle, there’s going to be the perception – probably very rightly – of bias. But when it’s coming from a documentary filmmaker or something, perhaps there’s less of that.

Our interest in producing content ourselves is that it’s a more effective tool to pique curiosity than traditional advertising in this area. These issues are really difficult to speak to in a way that’s at all engaging in a 30-second television spot. With the little films we’ve done like Back To The Start or The Scarecrow, the idea is to bring people into the conversation through something that is first and foremost entertainment, and secondly says something about us. And thirdly, that is designed to spark conversation.

Farmed and Dangerous very much fits in that same vein. The idea was to make something that was first and foremost entertainment, because people pay attention to entertainment. That was really the direction for this. It’s not a show about Chipotle – we’re not in it at all. We’re calling it a values integration rather than a more traditional product integration. The idea was to let entertainment really drive the nature and content of the show.

How did the relationship between Chipotle and Piro come about? What were the initial conversations like, and how did it develop?

Daniel Rosenberg, Piro: I was introduced to Tim [Piper] about four years ago through something he had just written called The Palace of Light for Post Shredded Wheat. That ended up begetting our relationships and ironically that’s what caught the eye of Mark Crumpacker, the chief marketing officer of Chipotle.

Mark said: ‘To me that was perfect writing, perfect directing, and I had to find out who was responsible for that.’ Lucky for us, he’s a good cyber sleuth and he found out that Tim was the writer/director. We had just launched Piro not too much earlier, and Piro had a website that he tracked down.

We walked into the Chipotle office and they showed us Back To The Start, which they hadn’t released yet, and we were like ‘Oh my God, these people get it. We have to have them as clients.’ It was a mutual admiration society.

Tim Piper, Piro: We all got along very well from the first meeting. We had a meeting every month and we would show them concepts. But it was really during one of the first meetings that we had the idea for Farmed and Dangerous – not the title, but just the idea of satirising the spokespeople for industrial farming.

We just couldn’t let it go, because it seemed to be the best way to treat the subject matter was comedy. Chipotle at the time was looking to do something that might have had a bit more humour in it, as opposed to creating Food Inc. 2 as a documentary. The challenge was to attempt to bring a scripted comedy to this subject matter with a pretty full-on collaboration with the Chipotle people themselves. With a pretty mutual collaboration we came up with the series and the plot points.

Throughout the creative process, was it a back and forth between Piro and Chipotle? Were you sitting in the same room?

Piper: There’s a funny story to that. We sent them a first draft and they were like, ‘Yeah, we just don’t think it’s funny enough. What we’d really like you to do is go back, write a new script and just make a cow explode in the first scene.’ We thought that was good feedback to get from the client.

Rosenberg: When we sent the script back – they’re not used to reading screenplays. So what we actually did was go to a casting director in New York and put a table read together, which is a very common thing in television, the world I’m from. We actually had a bunch of actors around the Chipotle conference table read the pilot, and we were practically greenlit in the room.

Piper: We would send drafts to them, and they would come back with not only notes, but sometimes they would rewrite a big chunk of dialogue. It would always be an improvement.

Rosenberg: Their contributions were about us getting industrial agriculture information correct. They really gave us a master’s degree in agriculture and showing us where to research. Mark, the CMO, actually did all of the graphic work that you’re seeing. It is just amazing to have a CMO who is so creative and can be such an asset to us. It was a real partnership.


Did Chipotle do research ahead of time that indicated that there was a market for this type of content? Did you look at your target audience and say ‘Here’s what they’re watching, we should fit in there’?

Arnold: Not really. We tend not to be a very research-driven company, but rather one that really acts on instinct and is comfortable blazing new trails. In the very beginning when Steve Ells opened the first Chipotle, people who were really knowledgeable about the industry told him all of the reasons it was wrong. ‘No one knows what a chipotle is. The menu is too limited. The portions are too big. The food is too spicy.’ And Steve changed none of that; even 20 years later we’ve changed virtually none of that.

Instead, we’ve moved forward with this confidence that what we were doing was serving really great food that we thought people would like. And it has worked.

The same thing is true in our approach to marketing. Because Chipotle as a company has been built in a very different way, we look at our marketing in a very different way. It hasn’t been ‘consumer insights tell us this’, it has been ‘Back To The Start really resonated with people’. That was our first entertainment content play and people reacted really favourably and in a very strong way to that, so we said ‘What else can we do in this vein?’

All told, from conception through drafts to completion, how long did the development process take?

Piper: More than a year, but only because we shot the pilot and then it was decision time whether to release the pilot, test the popularity and make more, or whether we all collectively liked the pilot enough that we decided it was going to be popular enough to make it a worthwhile exercise to produce another three episodes and then have a miniseries that could potentially become a full-blown series.

The normal time frame from beginning to end for something like this could be as short as five to six months, but it could also take a couple of years. It tends to be shorter than doing a TV show because of marketing deadlines. When you’re creating a TV show or a film, you can spend months on casting, whereas we had only the typical amount of time for casting that a commercial has. Maybe a little bit longer. So there are certain elements of branded entertainment that are rushed that just aren’t rushed in the entertainment world. But on the other hand there are many other benefits because you have the brand to help market the show.

Can you talk to me about the decision to go with Hulu? Does Chipotle have an agreement with Hulu where money is changing hands?

Rosenberg: Piro has actually been overseeing the distribution strategy, which is fairly unique. That’s sort of my background, so we like to try to access traditional entertainment distribution as opposed to paid media. We have actually a revenue-share with Hulu. It’s an interesting situation where there’s going to be recoupment on this.

We basically looked at all the possible places this could live. Netflixand Amazon are SVOD [subscription video on demand]. That limits audience numbers. On the flip side you have YouTube and Yahoo, which often have user-generated content. The other downside is those networks are for video snacking, not longform content. So the only logical place for us, we felt, was Hulu, where there’s not only premium content, but consumers are used to looking at longform content and expect premium experiences.

Arnold: Farmed and Dangerous on Hulu really lives among other great television programming. The deal we have with Hulu is a revenue-sharing deal. We’ve bought essentially promotion of the show and share in the revenue of advertising sold during the show.

Piper: Even things like Super Bowl ads come and go. It’s the same with events, which are done a lot with branded entertainment. But this show, with the core values of Chipotle, really lives forever now that it’s made. Unless they decide they want to pull it down, this is a show that can live in the hearts and minds of people for years to come. That’s part of the strategy behind branded entertainment like this and creating a full-length show is that it lasts a lot longer.

Rosenberg: There’s no reason this can’t have a lifespan of years and years.

The thing that some brands don’t understand is that there is always a way in. There is always a way to make it relevant to your brand, to serve a marketing purpose and to be entertaining.

– Tim Piper, Piro

Does Chipotle have metrics that will indicate whether the series was a success and accomplished what you wanted it to?

Arnold: Nothing formal. We’ll certainly be paying attention to what the response is, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Does the show deliver a big audience? And are customers and people really drawn to it in terms of its content?

We liked Tim’s comment in The New York Times about the advantages of longer-form content and the ability to build characters. Was this an opportunity to build brand equity in the form of characters?

Piper: Definitely. That’s why the relationship between Daniel, who is entertainment-based, and me, being marketing-based, becomes so valuable. He actually knows what a character is. I never really knew what a real character or story was. You have various rules, turning points, character arcs and characters that have a weakness and can learn and grow. That’s why people fall in love with them. Daniel taught me all that stuff. And what I was able to bring to the brand side was how valuable a character can be for a brand. So we were able to call our lead hero Chip, and basically everything about this guy represented what Chipotle’s values are. That means that Chipotle has a character, which it owns forever, that can be a spokesperson for the brand. People say it’s pretty brave to do a show without any branding. They’re forgetting that it’s actually quite safe, too, because you can create characters that represent what your brand stands for, and you can use that character as much as you want to push your cause.

What’s next? Are there plans for further content like this?

Arnold: We’d love to see future seasons of Farmed and Dangerous. This first four-episode season launches on 17 February on Hulu and the show is built in a way that it could be a continuing thing. We would really like to see more episodes and more seasons of Farmed and Dangerous that deal with other issues. The first season is really inspired by the heavy reliance on petroleum in large-scale agriculture, but there are a lot of issues that Farmed and Dangerouscould address. In fact, in the first season there is another issue that is teed up, and that could very well be the basis for a second season or a second set of episodes. We’d certainly be interested in that.

More broadly, we’re interested in producing content that entertains, first and foremost, and in doing things that bring people into the conversation and engage them in what we’re trying to do.

Rosenberg: We want to see how it does and how it’s received, but we’ve already got interest from international distribution, and we’re going to start exploring that seriously. A lot of the international countries that care about a lot of these issues are also very big international television markets – it correlates very nicely. Whether or not Chipotle has a restaurant in that country or not, this show can easily live there. That was part of the thinking behind this.

Tim and I often talk about the importance of the fact that I’m an entertainment guy and he’s an advertising guy. When we’re working with brands we’re really trying to ask all the tough questions up front so that it’s not product placement, it’s values integration. It’s figuring out what a brand wants to say. All of those conversations are happening very early on in the process, and the filter for us is that is has to be entertaining first. Because if it’s not, you’re not adding value to people’s lives. People are sophisticated now; they know that. Tim happens to be very good at holding brands' hands during very difficult creative choices, where they might instinctively want the product in there. Tim’s expertise doing this gives him credibility.

Piper: It’s funny, the opposite happened with Chipotle. At some point I remember being concerned about how little integration there was. I snuck it in a couple times, and they were like, ‘Get that out of there!’ Which I thought was great.

The thing that some brands don’t understand is that there is always a way in. There is always a way to make it relevant to your brand, to serve a marketing purpose and to be entertaining. That’s proven over and over by the fact that Super Bowl commercials are so loved by the public. Brands often forget that when they try to be entertaining, and really put in the effort, they will get the love and respect from the audiences. It just takes creative thinking and a lot of effort. No matter what the brand is, there is something to say in an entertaining way.

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