Chipotle's updated marketing shows its comeback is 'for real'
Chipotle Mexican Grill has updated everything from its food lineup to its executive ranks in recent years and the overhaul is taking shape. The chain’s comeback story took center stage at the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Marketing conference in a session called “The Reawakening of Chipotle.”
The “For Real” campaign that launched in Sept. 2018 was a way for the brand to reignite its voice, with a focus on the food, years after food safety issues had kept diners away.
“We really wanted to celebrate the food and we weren’t apologizing anymore,” said Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt.
Sales are up, as are visits to its restaurants. Not to mention the stock price, which has hit new highs, well above $800 per share. (That’s a lot of burritos and bowls.)
“I don’t think we would have expected it to take off as quickly as it did, and that just shows the love that people have for Chipotle, and the brand affinity that people have,” said Brandt.
While agency Venables Bell & Partners is leading the creative push, Chipotle is building up its internal creative muscle. Shelley Sheppard, Chipotle’s director, brand creative, is building a team to work with agencies on content, marketing and storytelling.
Last month, the fast-casual chain introduced carne asada, a premium cut of steak, for a limited time. “We’re just overwhelmed with the reaction from our customers,” Stephanie Perdue, VP of marketing, told Ad Age on the sidelines of the conference.
That limited-time approach, which Brandt and other marketers at the chain are familiar with from their years at Taco Bell, is a bit of a departure for Chipotle, where the menu has largely stayed the same for years.
“The results have been good so far,” Perdue said of carne asada.
Despite what appear to be strong sales, carne asada has not earned a permanent place on the menu (yet).
“It’s only for a limited time, but I think this is just the start of many things to come,” says Perdue, who is also a former Taco Bell marketer.
Chipotle has also found new ways to promote its existing products. Bowls with certain ingredients geared toward devotees of keto, paleo and Whole 30 diets, helped drive online orders when they debuted in January.
This month, Chipotle is offering extra loyalty points for vegetarian dishes on Meatless Mondays. It’s getting ready to roll out a new queso blanco. And it’s finding ways to insert the brand into cultural conversations.
Chipotle is trying to reach customers beyond its traditional ads, from having kids spell ingredients, spelling-bee style, to showcasing bowl lid flips on TikTok. Its latest effort is hiding so-called Easter eggs inside the source code of the websites of some startups, unveiling coupon codes for free food at Chipotle. When people come across the Easter eggs, they get a message from Chipotle in code-themed art.
And the brand is prepared to latch onto cultural moments. During Maroon 5’s Super Bowl performance, people watching compared singer Adam Levine’s tattoo-covered torso to a Chipotle bag, including on Twitter.
“We had no involvement at the Super Bowl until this happened, until Adam Levine took off his shirt,” said Brandt, adding that the social media response got 170 million views. “We kind of won the Super Bowl without even participating,” he said.