How Chipotle used a game to captivate customers

Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

Written by Shannon Forbes - Digifianz Marketing Analyst

 On 6/25/19 4:33 PM

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Most companies shy away from investing in unconventional marketing campaigns, preferring to stick with traditional advertisements. Chipotle decided to take a chance on an elaborate marketing strategy, creating not only a short film, The Scarecrow, but also an advertising video game, or advergame, based on the movie.

Released in 2013, the film reached 6.5 million views on YouTube in under two weeks and the game reached 250,000 downloads within 4 days of its release, rocketing to the top 15 free iOS applications on the US iOS app store.

In the film’s mere 3 minutes and 22 seconds, viewers are moved to empathize with the disillusionment of the title character with mass food production and animals being viewed as numbers rather than sentient beings, all to a haunting original cover of “Pure Imagination” by Fiona Apple.

It is truly impressive what an emotional reaction can be created in such a short amount of time, and not surprisingly, the film won 2 Emmy Awards, 14 Cannes Lions and more than 600 other creative awards.

Take virtual action

Although a film may seem like enough for a marketing campaign, especially when it’s such a success, the mobile game took the message to a new level.  The film ties seamlessly into the video game of the same title, transforming an image at the end of the film into a scene from the video game itself. This brilliant marketing move wielded viewers’ indignation to spur them to action: fighting giant food corporations via video games.  The film leaves you frustrated with the system and aching to make a change, but not sure how.  Cut to the game - it gives you a means of immediately channeling your rage by taking direct action.  The player takes on the role of the scarecrow from the film, bringing animals to pastures and scaring away crow bots. And due to the virtual nature of the fight, there aren’t any risks to the player in engaging with it.  

Moreover, the game enabled viewers to immerse themselves in an elaboration of the movie world and the ideas it wrestled with.  The game provides players with a means of experiencing the dilemmas and emotions of the movie in a same-but-different way. Putting yourself in the Scarecrow’s shoes and actively trying to save animals from the mass corporation involves your morals in a more palpable sense than just viewing the film.  You also practice putting your morals into action, making choices based on what you think is right.

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Advergames are successful marketing tools because they hook consumers and keep them engaged for longer than traditional ads.  Viewers of the film may post about it on social media and then move on, whereas games inspire longer-lasting and more compelling conversations about the topic at hand.

Of course, after working up an appetite while saving the environment, you are then inspired to go eat sustainably-sourced food at a Chipotle near you - yet another example of how mobile games influence consumer behavior.  

This marketing strategy worked because both the message of the movie and the objective of the game were based directly on the company’s mission: to cultivate a better world through their Food with Integrity campaign.  This game was clever and entertaining proof that games can communicate serious messages. 

Moral standpoint

Chipotle made choosing its food not just about hunger, but about morals.

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No one wants animals to suffer or the environment to be ruined by pesticides, but most of the time hunger wins and we end up eating what’s easiest without thinking about the implications.  Chipotle wanted to change that and to inspire people to think about where their food comes from and how it affects the world as a whole.

This moral standpoint appeals to people of any age trying to eat healthier despite harried, 21st century lives.  Soccer moms (and dads!) can feel good about bringing kids there after a game. Busy office workers don’t have to feel guilty about having “fast food’ for lunch because this fast food is different.  

Gaming success

The advergame received high praise for its animation and premise.  Venture Beat declared that the game’s production value is exceptionally high. Characters and environments are beautifully modeled, the plot emotionally engages players, and a large amount of varied content drives repeat usage.  

The game did receive complaints about imprecise controls, since it relied on tilt control.  It was also created exclusively for iOS, missing out on roughly 62% of the total smartphone market at that time.

Despite these shortcomings, the game was a marketing success.  Chipotle included deals and discounts for players who scored at least 3 out of 5 stars on the different levels, encouraging continued interaction with the game.  This strategy also worked to bring customers into a restaurant, where they likely spent more than they might otherwise because they were receiving part of their meal for free (guac, anyone?).

Moreover, the game icon is a constant brand reminder every time players open their phone, a veritable marketing ad that the consumer is allowing to set up shop on their home screen.

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Fast food or real food?

It’s one thing to eat (a half-dozen) tacos from Taco Bell (why are they so small?), it’s a whole other thing to choose fresh ingredients (some of which are even organic) that are prepared in the kitchen of the restaurant.  

Can they both really be referred to as “fast food”?  Sure, your foil-wrapped burrito (with all the fillings your heart desires) is served to you quickly, but it sure doesn’t feel the same as ordering a Cheesy Gordita Crunch or Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme (you can’t make this up) at a drive-thru.

Chipotle gave us an easy choice, and helped us feel good about it, too.

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