Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow”

In our society advertising is a central part of every day life. Advertising is literally everywhere a consumer looks, as the average consumer sees over 5,000 advertisements a day. This over-stimulation has had a major impact on both how the consumer views ads and in turn, how ads are created. One of the primary ways that advertisers are cutting through the clutter of todays commercial landscape is by creating ads that do not seem like ads as is illustrated by the current chipotle ad “The Scarecrow”.

The ad is a short animated viral video to promote Chipotle’s new game app. The ad opens with the main character, the scarecrow entering the highly industrialized and heavily polluting factory of “Crow Foods Incorporated”. As the scarecrow goes about his day he sees machines process a substance labeled “100% Beef-ish”, cows confined to metal boxes and chickens being injected with menacing looking chemicals. After being followed all day by evil looking robotic crows, the scarecrow returns to his wholesome farmhouse outside the city. At home he harvests fresh produce, lovingly prepares the ingredients, and then drives back to the city to open up a burrito stand with a sign saying “Cultivate a Better World”. The ad ends with a short demo of The Scarecrow application for sale at the iTunes store and a flash of the chipotle logo. The whole film is silent and is accompanied by a haunting rendition of the song pure imagination performed by Fiona Apple. While on the surface “The Scarecrow” might seem like a unique and artistic piece of marketing promoting the use of wholesome produce and Chipotle’s game application, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of this striking ad.

The Chipotle ad is layered with meaning that is communicated through both discreet and obvert signs. For example, the main character in the ad is a scarecrow.The purpose of a scarecrow in the farming industry is to scare away crows, which damage crops. The scarecrow, which therefore is the signifier, is actually an example of polysemy as it has multiple connotations. It implies wholesomeness, traditional practices, traditional values as well as simplicity.  Another example of a signifier, which is an element within an ad that carries a specific meaning, is the factory. The factory is depicted as austere, artificial, impersonal and polluting. This denotes that the products produced in factories behind closed doors are of poor quality and not what the consumer should or would want to consume.

Another way meaning is added to the ad is through intertextuality. Intertextuality as described by Goldman and Papson is referencing other works or cultural references to imbue a new work with certain types of meaning.  The song Fiona Apple sings in the ad is called “Pure Imagination”. The song was written for, and gained notoriety through the original “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” movie. This refrence therefore carries the associations of wonderment, freedom, and hope as is embodied in “Willy Wonka”. The fact that Fiona Apple is the artist singing the cover of “Pure Imagination” is another interesting element to the ad that is representative in a way of cultural cannibalism because it takes her cache of an indie artist as a free spirit and thinker and attaches that to the Chipotle Brand. Fiona Apple also contributes heavily to the cool factor of the ad.

What is “cool” as described by Naomi Klein is basically anything that is alternative and not mainstream. Fiona Apple is not a commercial star such as Beyoncé or Katy Perry; therefore she attracts a more discerning audience. There is often an association with big names artists that they are just in it for the money. As a truly gifted singer songwriter who is somewhat under the radar, Apple adds a level of authenticity to the project.

Before the Creative Revolution of the 1960’s, which was ignited by Bill Bernbach’s belief that advertising should be more focused on the creative elements, verses the sales elements, “The Scarecrow” ad would never have been produced. Bernbach revolutionized the industry with his belief that there was no one formula for selling products. His theory that by using a less formulaic top down approach more compelling content would be produced, which would therefore lead to sales proved to be accurate. This is a clear product of the Creative Revolution because it almost entirely devoid of specific selling points. The companies name is only mentioned at the end of the ad briefly, and there are no direct references to the products Chipotle sells, and the only product reference to the app the company is giving away for free! This lack of direct reference to Chipotle products however makes the ad appeal to the cynical spectator, who is normally very critical of all advertising, because the ad does not overtly advertorial, rather it instills a favorable opinion of Chipotle’s practices within the consumer.

While the ad is incredibly creative and does encourage a certain level of respect for Chipotle’s dedication to using quality ingredients, the ad still is reflective of Goldman and Papson’s belief that all ads disguise or suppress contradictions and irrationalities. The ad overdramatizes the point that much of the livestock we eat is harmed by being processed and altered significantly from its natural state. This is somewhat of a contradiction because even most farm raised livestock is processed in a factory, and the in the ad, the natural livestock is never processed.



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