Advertising Age | March 12, 2012 15
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Chipotle’s first national TV ad, a two-minute
spot about a farmer going back to his roots,
made its debut online last August.
Chipotle aims to buck fast-food
convention—while it still can
The chain may eschew agency partners and frequent campaigns,
but that didn’t stop it from making a big splash during the Grammys
■ BY MAUREEN MORRISON
CHIPOTLE CMO Mark Crumpacker is
in an enviable position.
He leads marketing for one of the
best-performing fast-food chains in the
country. The 19-year-old company
posted an 11% jump in same-store
sales last year, and there’s no sign it will
slow. Yet he also has one of the leanest
traditional-marketing budgets around.
Mr. Crumpacker joined Chipotle in
2009 as its first chief marketing officer.
Not long after, the company ditched the
agency-of-record model and brought its
Chipotle made the change “mostly
because it didn’t work several times in a
row. … The problem—I can see now—
was that we simply didn’t know what
the right message was for our brand at
the time,” Mr. Crumpacker told Ad Age.
“It’s an expensive and difficult process to
try to figure that out within the typical
agency model. I don’t think [it] is set up
to answer a question that fundamental.”
It was an unusual move in the fast-
food world, especially among the big,
national players, which rely on consis-
tent, big-budget marketing campaigns
from major agencies to drive traffic and
promote new offerings.
“This business is all about same-store sales, and what drives that is television,” said restaurant marketing veteran Dan Dahlen.
Mr. Crumpacker hopes to avoid that
strategy, at least for the time being. But
that didn’t stop him from opportunisti-
cally jumping on the TV bandwagon,
albeit in a novel fashion.
was that we
know what the
was for our
brand at the
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Chicago in October. It featured live
music and chefs from around the country, as well as educational elements that
let attendees see how food is raised and
grown. Mr. Crumpacker said the event
attracted 17,000 people. Chipotle plans
to expand the festival this year and add
its hometown, Denver, to the schedule.
It has also been working to roll out
the Farm Team program,Chipotle’s version of a loyalty program. Instead of
recognizing frequency with a “Buy 10,
get one free” scheme, Farm Team
rewards knowledge. The typical reward
route usually generates what Mr.
Crumpacker called “transient loyalty”
and therefore doesn’t mesh with his
goal of building long-term loyalty. The
invitation-only, online program quizzes
users on sustainability, organic farming
and humane food sourcing.
“The more knowledge you acquire
and the more you share via social
media ... the more stuff you get,” Mr.
Crumpacker said. “My hope is that this
knowledge will help people connect
with the brand because they feel like
we’re a company that’s trying to do the
Another issue with the free-food
reward is that it’s often equivalent to a
10% discount. “That 10% has to come
from somewhere, and in fast food, that’s
probably the ingredients,” Mr.
Crumpacker said. “That’s not in the
program for Chipotle—we spend more
on our ingredients.”
Of course, one day Chipotle, should
it expand to thousands of locations, may
have to switch to a more traditional
“Chipotle will eventually get to that
point, that to drive same-store sales
they’ll have to go to TV,” marketing
expert Mr. Dahlen said. “As you get into
the top spenders in the category, there’s
a correlation between share of voice and
share of stomach.”
For now, many big chains are likely
envious that Chipotle gets so much
attention with such a small ad budget.
Mr. Crumpacker said that, while any-
thing is possible, for now the chain
plans to continue building long-term
loyalty through efforts like Cultivate,
Farm Team and more short films.
“The alternative is to switch to the
type of marketing that every other fast-food company uses—with these new
menu items and big ad campaigns to
promote them,” said Mr. Crumpacker.
“I think once you do that, you can’t go
back, because those work. … Once you
get on that model, I think it’s very, very
hard to get off. I want to try to do this as
long as I can.”