Restaurant chain Chipotle yesterday released one of the most subversive, creative and ground-breaking advertisements, The Scarecrow I’ve encountered.
The dazzling short film tells the story of a disenchanted scarecrow who sadly bears witness to the mechanization of our food system. In a world not unlike our own, Crow Foods raises animals in factory-like conditions, and spits out burgers and chicken nuggets from an assembly line. Anyone who has watched Samsara will be familiar with the brutality
The Scarecrow’s act of rebellion is to grow his own food from the land, and set up shop in the shadow of a Crow Foods factory.
However, the real master stroke is that that The Crow’s touching animated film is just a trailer for a free video game available on iPhone and iPad.
The spot’s creators write:
“The Scarecrow” is at once an addicting game, a poignant short film, and a project that reflects what we believe in. The city of Plenty is a glimpse at a future that may not be far off. Processed food, animal confinement, and the use of synthetic growth hormones, non-therapeutic antibiotics, and toxic pesticides are rampant in our food supply. Educating people about alternatives is a journey for the Scarecrow, and it continues to be a journey for us.
This is truly the future of business communication, advertising and product marketing. Startups and businesses of all sizes should take heed. There many valuable lessons.
Space constraints are dead
In the old media world advertising was constricted by print and broadcast formats. No advertisement could be longer than the commercial break in a 21-minute television episode. The same was true for radio spots and print advertisements. In college I had a journalism instructor who joked that his job as a cub reporter was to fill up the space around the advertisements.
When I was a kid the Guns and Roses video for “November Rain” caused quite a stir because it was nine minutes long instead of the traditional 3.5. Had Axl Rose not been front man for one of the most popular bands in the world, there’s no way MTV would have agreed to air the spot. Kanye West a produced 35-minute film for his song “Runaway,” because on YouTube space is infinite, even while attention is more scarce than ever.
Advertising as entertainment
Today’s content creators must compete against advertisers for the audience. Brands have really stepped up their game to remain relevant in a world of ubiquitous media access. My impulse on YouTube used to be to skip all advertisements, but I often watch all the way to the end for a number of products. And today a pre-roll video advertisement can be almost any length, as long as it entertains the audience.
Cost is no longer an issue
The cost to Chipotle to hire a crack animation team and another rockstar gaming studio is negligible compared to buying media. People love to talk about the soaring cost of a Super Bowl advertisement, but truthfully it’s a small expense for a multinational conglomerate like Samsung which spent $4.3 billion on advertising alone in 2012.
But here’s the genius part. While Samsung might have made it rain cash on publishers and, how many of their ads are you bound to remember. The haunting soundtrack and stunning visuals of Chipotle’s Scarecrow are likely to stick with you for a long time. And anyone who shares the video game with their friends is advertising on Chipotle’s behalf. How’s that for viral?
I doubt your startup has Chipotle’s marketing budget, but you’d be surprised how many ways there are to stretch your dollar with animated explainer videos and professionally recorded and edited live action film.
Transmedia storytelling will win
Chipotle’s subversive advertisement is a shot across the bow to former investor McDonald’s as well as to agribusiness and the entire industrial food complex. From a public relations standpoint it’s cashes in on the fact that many people watching will be consuming the video on their iPhone or mobile device, and will be able to immediately download the app.
Before starting Draft, Startup Edition blogger Nathan Kontny, was co-founder of CityPosh, which created branded video games for advertisers. At Y Combinator Demo Day Kontny told the assembled that Chipotle was one of the team’s earliest clients. While CityPosh is no more, I would be surprised if Chipotle forgot the lessons they learned about how video games can be a powerful advertising tool.
Don’t be afraid to get creative
As a startup you have more tools than ever to tell your story to the public. There should be no bounds on your creativity. Be bold and take risks, just as Eat24 did with their unprecedented online advertising campaign. Don’t be afraid to use humor. Just do something to be different. The Internet is remarkably forgiving, as my mentor Sree Srinivasan is fond of saying. Just don’t be tone deaf.
The future of advertising and marketing belongs to startups willing to take risks, as well as brands who are ready to be provocative, harnessing the power of stories. The time to add your voice is now!
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