jesse-coulterThe Scarecrow is a stand-alone franchise but is also part of Chipotle’s Cultivate a Better World campaign. How does it all fit together?

Back to the Start was the first piece of content that we did with Chipotle and it addressed the issue of factory farming. Then there came the cultivate festivals. With Scarecrow, we wanted to address food processing, which is a little more of a complex story.

There’s a lot to this issue, so instead of trying to do all the heavy lifting with the film, the film became a trailer for the game, which lets you continue to live in the world, but which goes a little deeper with some of the specifics.

The campaign deals with some pretty serious issues, and the game seemed like a much more palatable way to learn about them than a text book or a two hour documentary that kids aren’t going to sit through.

Chipotle is famous for its unconventional and purpose-driven marketing efforts. How did that play into your collaboration?

I think it starts at the top with Steve Ells. His goal is to change the way people think about and eat fast food. And Mark Crumpacker, who became the CMO a few years ago, thinks there’s a better way to tell their story than through advertising.

Chipotle has been building out this supply chain, working with over seven thousand family farmers for 20 years, and we felt like that was a great story that needed to be told. That’s where Mark really challenged us to find a more compelling way to tell that than through billboards.

If you really want to be loved and embraced by people, you can’t just put out a marketing campaign that spins what you’re doing. You have to practice what you preach and not every brand can do that, but it’s slowly shifting.

But it’s not just that. We work hard not to be preachy and to actually do something that’s quite compelling. Sometimes it can be very difficult to be entertaining when we’re dealing with these heavy issues.

A 2010 Chipotle billboard derides ad agency messaging. Image via dailybillboardblog.com.

A 2010 Chipotle billboard derides ad agency messaging. Image via dailybillboardblog.com.

Chipotle’s campaigns have some pretty big names attached to them. For Scarecrow, you brought in Fiona Apple and the Oscar-winning Moonbot studios. How does a Mexican fast food brand attract that kind of talent?

Everyone we worked with cares about the issues and has respect for Chipotle and their mission, so it’s never an endorsement deal. We look for people who are authentic and a right fit for the brand.

The phrase we always throw around is, “what’s the pop culture math for this idea?” What’s the equation that’s going to spark interest in culture or create culture and drive interest?

When you think about Willie Nelson doing a Coldplay song – that felt like one of those headlines where you’re like, “oh that’s interesting and unexpected.”

Scarecrow wasn’t made into a television ad. Why the decision to stay away from paid media?

It wasn’t stay away, it was more, we have a three-minute film and the budgets aren’t huge. We thought of ways to get this out there, and the game already has this built-in distribution through the apps and we thought: If we can get the pop culture math right, this is going to get a lot of earned media.

The whole campaign has very little media behind it. The film had zero media behind it up until a few months in. So what you saw in the first week just happened. There’s no media, there’s no pushing. There’s just PR and putting it on YouTube.

Then the game got a lot of love, Apple featured it in the app store, and the video was featured on YouTube’s homepage in the entertainment category. So there was no paid media.

Also, it ran before a documentary called GMO OMG, which ran in more art house theatres across the country. It was actually attached to the film.

The Chipotle logo barely appears in “The Scarecrow.” How do you decide how branded the content should be?

It’s always driven by the client. Chipotle did not want this to be heavily branded, and that’s our philosophy as well.

We’re not fans of product placement and with most integrations, if you sell too hard, you’re going to lose people. The best entertainment in the world does a great job of bringing you into a story, making you feel and care, but it’s never done in a heavy-handed way.

We call it “trying to create pure entertainment experiences.” If it doesn’t feel pure then people are going to feel it and they’re going to reject it.

Do you expect this to be the way forward – more entertainment and less branded?

The “make the logo bigger” mentality from the print days doesn’t really work anymore. If you look at the history of advertising, we’ve gone from very obvious to more subtle ways of brand messaging. It’s rare to see someone hold a bottle of soda up to their face and say, “drink this!”

Audiences are getting more sophisticated and that’s exciting to us. People don’t have to watch anything anymore, unless it’s a live event. They are going to watch what they like. If it’s not entertaining, no one will care. If it’s entertainment that’s just one big giant product ad, nobody’s going to care.

Our goal is to create stuff that, regardless of whether it comes from a brand, is considered entertainment. We want to create really interesting things that people want to share.