According to a recent Advertising Age article, “Chipotle Bucks Fast-Food Convention While It Still Can,” Chipotle Mexican Grill Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker brought all advertising in house because “we simply didn’t know what the right message was for our brand at the time. It’s an expensive and difficult process to try to figure that out within the typical agency model.”

Then he went out and hired Creative Artists Agency to create a video that ran during the Grammy Awards. (So I’m not sure money was the real driver.)

I’m certainly not one to argue against the pros of the traditional agency model that so many agencies also rail against. Of course, those same agencies turn around and spend more time meeting about advertising than actually manufacturing advertising. (Remember when a creative director was actually a person and not a committee?)

But as Crumpacker dives into the fashionable pool of nontraditional media created by nontraditional means, he might want to remind himself of the traditional media outlets that built the Chipotle brand: outdoor and radio.

Never, before Chipotle, had someone made a burrito wrapped in foil look appetizing — or made anything wrapped in foil appetizing. That iconic image plastered on outdoor boards throughout the land was the first image America had of this new, intriguing and “How do you pronounce that?” brand. America quickly learned the language of Chipotle. Then, even better, they started singing it.

Why? Because of another timeworn and underrated medium: radio.

“I’m talking about pork. Pork. Pork. Pork. Pork. What do I want at the end of my fork? I want pork.” And who can forget, “Hey, hey, hey, Burrito Lady. You’re driving me crazy, Burrito Lady!”

Song after song played on Marconi’s magic machine and connected Chipotle with its target. It kept the craving going.

Outdoor and radio. That’s old school. Yet, when used to their full potential, they are proof that advertising could thrive in social media long before Al Gore invented the Internet. The advertising just had to be good. And if it was good, it was very social. It was the talk of the town.

There is nothing like Americans singing your songs as they drive past your outdoor boards on their way to sate their foil-wrapped fixation at your restaurant.

So, Crumpacker’s right: It doesn’t take a holding company creating television commercials to create and sustain a fast-food phenomenon. But before he jumps headlong into nontraditional media created in nontraditional ways, he might want to give a head nod to the traditions that built the Chipotle brand in the first place.

For almost 30 years, Bernie Pitzel has created and directed award-winning advertising for clients such as McDonald’s, Long John Silver’s and Coors Light. He is the creative in residence at Jacobs Agency, where he uses his talent to help the agency deliver on its new branding effort.

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2 Responses to “Don’t buck tradition — build on it”

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  2. I think Chipotle has done a great job in their approach to marketing their food products. I think they do a great job of disguising the fact, that they are ultimately, a huge restaurant chain.

    Although I would argue that the food Chipotle serves is far superior to any other fast food, I think they do a good job of letting people know that. Chipotle's brand identity is especially strong because of what it has done to its customers.

    I think the root of marketing is "social." You cannot sell a product that no one talks about, marketing is just the catalyst that sparks the conversation.

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