Here's a doozy of a marketing stunt from the burrito slingers at Chipotle: a new mobile game and a short film called The Scarecrow about the horrors of industrial farming. Both the game and the video were created by Chipotle with Moonbot Studios and CAA Marketing. Like their last video about industrial farming, this one paints a bleak picture.
Both the game and the film are set in a "dystopian fantasy world where all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods." The film — set to an eerie soundtrack of vegan singer Fiona Apple singing "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — follows the story of a weary scarecrow who works for Crow Foods, which claims to be "farm fresh." In his workday, he sees disturbing things like chickens being injected with green goo from huge syringes wielded by robotic crows, a machine that creates chicken-shaped nuggets, and terror-stricken cows living in Matrix-like metal boxes that milk them so hard the boxes shake. Scary stuff.
The scarecrow rides a train out of town through decimated farms, finally arriving at his own farmhouse which has a small garden. He picks vegetables and happily cooks them. He serves them in a tortilla, naturally, and distributes them at a stand under the banner "Cultivate A Better World." There is a line of people waiting to get their own. The film ends there, while the game allows players the chance to go back into the factory and "correct the wrongs committed by Crow Foods." In the press release below, Chipotle claims that the film and game mirror Chipotle's own "journey to cultivate a better world."
The film is certainly effective at demonizing industrial farming (and it's very pretty to look at), but it feels a bit like greenwashing on the part of the giant burrito company. For example, the hopeful conclusion of the video shows the scarecrow cooking and serving vegetables. Chipotle, on the other hand, serves plenty of animal products, and is considering using beef treated with antibiotics (though maybe not in green goo form). Chipotle has also used "conventionally raised" meats when there's been a supply shortage of humanely raised meats. To use Alex Atala's phrasing, death is inextricably linked to Chipotle's cooking. Just not in this video.
Similarly, the video suggests the value of knowing where food comes from and who is cooking it. In this case, the food is from the scarecrow’s garden and it is cooked by the scarecrow himself. Chipotle is an international chain with a large enough production scale that they were able to offer customers the chance to win free burritos for 20 years. Players of the scarecrow game will be incentivized with rewards points redeemable at over 1,500 locations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Chipotle’s not exactly a lemonade (and burrito) stand on the side of the road.
Perhaps the disconnect between the lofty ideals of the video and the reality of a burrito chain is related to what Marion Nestle pointed out earlier this year regarding Chipotle's motivation to serve "responsibly sourced" food: "There is an inherent conflict of interest ... They are contributing to people's over-consumption of calories and are stuck in that model. If anything affects their bottom line, they don't do it." Apparently, Chipotle believes this hardcore video will work to get people excited to buy their burritos. (It seems to have worked for HuffPo.) Below, the press release and the video:
Video: The Scarecrow
CHIPOTLE LAUNCHES "THE SCARECROW" FOR IPHONE, IPAD & IPOD TOUCH AND ANIMATED SHORT FILM "THE SCARECROW" MIRRORS CHIPOTLE'S OWN JOURNEY TO CULTIVATE A BETTER WORLD
DENVER, September 12, 2013 – Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) today launched "The Scarecrow," an arcade-style adventure game for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, along with a companion animated short film ofthe same name. Both the game and the film depict a scarecrow's journey to bring wholesome food back to the people by providing an alternative to the processed food that dominates his world. The game and the film were created in partnership with Academy Award® winning Moonbot Studios, and CAA Marketing, a division of Creative Artists Agency. The game is available for free download in the Apple App Store and the short film can be viewed at scarecrowgame.com.
"The Scarecrow" film and game are designed to help educate people about the world of
industrial food production that supplies much of what they eat. The film is set in a
dystopian fantasy world where all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods. The Crow Foods factory is staffed by scarecrows who have been displaced from their traditional jobs on the farm andare now relegated to working for the crows by helping them maintain their unsustainable processed food system. The short film is set to a remake of the song "Pure Imagination" from the 1971 film classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," performed by Grammy Award® winning artist, Fiona Apple.
The game allows users to visit the animated world and correct the wrongs committed by Crow Foods. Designed for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, the game allows players to fly
through the city of Plenty to transport confined animals to open pastures, fill fields with
diverse crops at Scarecrow Farms, and serve wholesome food to the citizens at PlentyFull
Plaza, all while avoiding menacing Crowbots. With each level, the city of Plenty becomes
more and more beautiful, just how the scarecrow remembers it to be.
"The more people learn about where their food comes from and how it is prepared, the
more likely they are to seek out high-quality, classically prepared food like we serve in our restaurants," said Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle. "We created 'The Scarecrow' game and film as an entertaining and engaging way to help people better
understand the difference between processed food and the real thing."
As an incentive for players to complete the game, Chipotle is providing food rewards
redeemable at any of its 1,500-plus U.S., Canada and UK locations. The rewards are
distributed electronically to players who earn at least three stars out of five in each world
and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
"Our companies are a great fit because we both care deeply about what we do and doing it right," said Brandon Oldenburg, creative partner at Moonbot Studios. "At Moonbot, we
must have meaning in what we create. 'The Scarecrow' story has it: imagination, heart and a sense of play."
"In many ways, 'The Scarecrow,' represents what we aspire to accomplish through our
vision of Food With Integrity," said Crumpacker. "In a system that is so heavily dominated
by industrial agriculture and factory farms, we are committed to finding better, more
sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use and to helping build a better food
system, much the same as the character in 'The Scarecrow' is taking important steps to fix what he perceives as being broken in his world."
Fiona Apple's cover of "Pure Imagination" will be available for download at the iTunes Store with proceeds ($.60 per download) benefiting the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, which provides funding to support sustainable agriculture, family farming, and culinary education.