Mr. Sheppard saw his spot, "Dady" (catch the clip on YouTube to understand the intentional misspelling), amass 2.25 million views on YouTube only two weeks after its initial posting. That number has since nearly doubled to 4 million, making it the second-most viewed video on the site. First place went to Southern Methodist University cinema-TV student Nick McCarthy, for his spot titled "The Wall," which got 4.6 million views.
The impressive number of views was the result of a viral marketing campaign kick-started by Chipotle that infiltrated the campuses of the participating colleges and, presumably, caught on at plenty of other non-competing schools as well.
All of which proves that having the YouTube generation aboard your campaign is one surefire way to generate excitement and buzz for a product.
"The kind of crazy things students have been doing to push those ads have obviously been really effective," said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. "They're out on campus handing out fliers every day, encouraging people to go see their spots, blasting out e-mails going to alumni groups. They have really gotten very clever and very innovative to get people out to see their work."
Mr. Sheppard was well aware that a clever idea was needed to make his clip stand out among the dozens of similarly themed spots involving food doing something wacky or lacking integrity, in keeping with the chain's core values. "Dady" stars a bald-headed father who is presented with a hand-made drawing from his young son, only to criticize the tyke for not doing justice to the shape of his head or even spelling his name correctly. The kicker? Chipotle customers don't settle for anything but the best.
"I had to make sure I didn't include a burrito in it," Mr. Sheppard said. "It had to be funny -- that's the only way a viral ad can spread around. So I went with funny because I had no budget."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, then, is "The Wall," which features two star-crossed college lovers in apartments opposite from each other polishing off their latest burritos and burrito bowls and adding the containers and wrappers to their respective walls. The clip is quirky, fast-paced and has a professional sheen and tone befitting a Levi's ad or even a music video. That's precisely what Mr. McCarthy was aiming to achieve with his team of three film majors and five advertising students.
"We were the only ones that I think really focused on selling the product without being too off the wall," Mr. McCarthy said. "It's pretty straightforward but still fun with good music to go along with it."
Shot at national exposure
Both clips still have a shot at gaining even more national exposure, should Chipotle decide to use them for what would be its first widespread TV campaign (Mr. Arnold said the company is still open to the concept but hasn't made official plans). But even without national airings, the winning college students have a considerable new chunk of change to spend on equipment for future projects.
"I'm probably going to get one of those 24-inch iMacs," Mr. McCarthy said. "I'm a film major and I don't have a Mac yet."