What Chipotle's Brilliant 'Scarecrow' Ad Proves About Millennial Activism


Any generation that is so lacking collective self-awareness that it celebrates entertainment that glorifies its worst habits (you know, like Lena Dunham’s Girls) has just got to be the pits. And for the most part millenials are. I have always been ashamed to be a millennial. We are dragging American culture down faster than you can say “fashion blog.” It’s a problem that has taken the spotlight in the past few years as the last — and most insufferable — wave of the millennial generation has been peeking into adulthood. But recently everyone’s favorite burrito fabricator, Chipotle, inadvertently put a new spin on what it means to be a millennial.

In releasing their new ad, “The Scarecrow,” the fast-food/health-food line-straddlers not only rebranded their company, but also rebranded Gen Y (but only kind of, we’ll get to the complexities after the jump). “The Scarecrow” is a three-minute short animated by MOONBOT Studios and scored with a Fiona Apple cover of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination,” two creative decisions making it abundantly clear who their target demographic is.

The animation centers on a sad-eyed, puppy dog of a scarecrow working for fictional company, Crow Foods, Inc.. The industrial, non-sustainable food company has put honest agriculture out of business (and subjugated the scarecrows of the world). Dejected by the rampant poor treatment of animals, our scarecrow with a heart of gold finally breaks and begins to farm in his backyard. He grows peppers — Chipotle peppers. Next thing you know, his town turns into Williamsburg, and he opens his own local, organic taco stand. To top it all off, the video serves to promote a free iOS game of the same title, an advertising scheme that is devilishly brilliant because it makes you want to do this:

First, let me say that if this was real life I’d be a whole-hell-of-a-lot more into Chipotle. But it’s not. A sad scarecrow who hates worker-subjugation did not start the baby-sized-burrito-pusher that is Chipotle. But in one swift power play the ad manages to dazzle the viewer with the company's sustainable practices, while also offering a free service (the game), entertainment (f*cking Fiona Apple, y’all), and only a quick flash of their name in the quiet closing frame.

When asked what prompted this new direction in marketing—other than coming back from this: 

What Chipotle should really be saying is that millennials are a trend-centric generation, sustainable practices are a trend in the first world, and they tried to make a trendy ad.

It’s really a fascinating problem. And, though it's trendy to care, the issues the Chipotle ad raises are significant. There is certainly poverty and hunger in the United States, but nothing like in other parts of the world. Most parts of the world don’t give a hot damn about gluten-free, grain-fed or locally-sourced because food is so scarce that being picky isn’t an option, or corporations don’t care to offer their factory food to parts of the world who don’t have money to pay for it so everything is locally-sourced. So that leaves American Gen Y to fight the battle on a very significant issue, often with insignificant, superficial means. And so corporations begin leading the American public to believe they are crusading for a better food system alongside us. They’re not.

Ever since more people than Al Gore started paying attention to the chemicals used in American food that are banned in other countries and the effects of industrial farming on the environment, many corporations have been trying to trick a more conscious America into believing that mass-produced food companies are on their side. It’s a phenomenon called “green washing.” You can see it staring you in the face at any supermarket or pharmacy in everything from crackers to face wash. Products come packaged with more earth tones, more subdued typography, and the ever-present “all natural.” If you read on to the back label though, you’ll find plenty of asterisks, and those asterisks usually demark the lies.

Chipotle’s ad needs a big asterisk next to it, too. Even though it’s admirable that they’re trying to make their restaurants more green, they’re claiming they’re doing a lot more than they really are. Last time I went into one of their locations , I noticed an asterisk at the bottom of their menu stating that they sustainably sourced their food when they could, but that it wasn’t always possible. They also don’t use sustainable cooking equipment or clean energy. They are promoting a progressive way of life, but not living up to it. The same goes for millennials. We as a generation are leading the backlash against corporate pollution of the environment and food system (and the government’s blind eye to it), but we’re too easily pleased by aesthetic fixes.

Above all though, the most important take-away from the Chipotle campaign is that they’ve drawn attention to a very important resource: millennials. They’ve admitted that we as a generation have the power to dictate how we are marketed to and which products are on the market. They picked up on the fact that we don’t like flashy ads, so they made a tasteful, interesting one. They picked up on the fact that we don’t like to be pumped full of hormones through our food, so they tried to tell us that they don’t do that. Chipotle certainly isn’t the first, and won’t be the last to be marketing to our picky generation. So think what might happen if we stop watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and eating artisanal chips and actually acted instead of just consuming.