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Chipotle Hopes to Reassure Customers with ‘A Love Story’

A still from ‘A Love Story,’ the third short animated film from Chipotle Mexican Grill. | Image credit: Chipotle Mexican Grill

Will the power of love help Chipotle recover from its food safety woes, defecting customers and still-struggling stock price? The fast casual restaurant chain has once again produced an original animated short film in an attempt to advocate for fresh, unprocessed ingredients and ‘cultivating a better world.’

The film, which premiered online on Wednesday and hits movie theatres today, follows two young drink-stand entrepreneurs, Ivan and Evie, through an escalating rivalry that leads them to build competing fast food empires. They unwittingly abandon their integrity to win customers, and one day realize they can no longer recognize their creations. Ultimately, they “discover what truly matters, their love for real food…and each other,” Chipotle’s website explains.

“Chipotle is very different than traditional fast food restaurants, and our marketing reflects those differences,” Mark Shambura, Chipotle's director of brand marketing, said in a statement. “By telling elements of Chipotle’s story through films that are primarily meant to entertain viewers, we have been able to prompt a number of important conversations about food and issues in food. While we hope consumers find ‘A Love Story’ as entertaining as we do, we also hope it encourages them to think about how food is made.”

The ad is set to a cover of the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 hit, "I Want It That Way," performed by Alabama Shakes’ lead singer Brittany Howard and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. The song was produced by Blake Mills and will be available for streaming on Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud.

A Love Story is the third animated short film produced by Chipotle, following The Scarecrow in 2013 and Back to the Start in 2011, which have each received millions of views on YouTube – over 15 million and 9.3 million, respectively. Each of these previous two shorts also included covers of well-known songs: The Scarecrow featured a cover of Pure Imagination from the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory performed by Fiona Apple; and Back to the Start featured a rendition of Coldplay’s The Scientist performed by Willie Nelson.

“This time, we chose the Backstreet Boys,” Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communications director, told brandchannel.  “Ultimately, we are looking for songs that people will recognize and that help to tell the story we are looking to tell, but we always produce new renditions of them to make them more unique and to help establish the overall tone for the film.”

The ad’s release comes roughly eight months after dozens of Chipotle customers fell ill in two separate E.coli outbreaks associated with food safety issues. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented 60 cases, they did not identify a specific food or ingredient linked to the people’s illnesses. Chipotle has since enhanced its food preparation procedures, and has been busy with efforts to reassure and win back customers, including giveaways and buy-one-get-one offers. A Love Story asks viewers to sign up for a new loyalty program, ‘Chipotopia,’ created due to the prolonged sales slump.

Chipotle posted its first quarterly loss as a public company for the recent first quarter and plans to post second quarter results on July 21. Some analysts believe a sales recovery won’t take place until 2018.

“Fundamentally these things are really primarily brand-building or brand-ethos pieces,” Arnold told Ad Age. “The timing made sense to specifically connect it to Chipotopia as well.”

Some might see the film as Chipotle’s attempt to distract consumers and most past food safety concerns; however, Shambura told Ad Age that the four-minute short has been in the works for 18 months – long before the food safety scare.

“While we obviously have some trust to regain, the film isn't specifically about food safety at all,” Shambura told Ad Age. “Our commitment to sourcing better ingredients and cooking those in our restaurants every day using classic cooking techniques have not wavered or changed. Some of our procedures have changed as it relates to enhanced food safety, but the film was not a place where we were going to focus on that specifically.”

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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