Has Chipotle Reinvented the Soap Opera?

Chipotle, the brand that brought us the highly rewarded “Back to the Start” video in which a farmer becomes disillusioned with industrial farming and returns to his wholesome roots—as well as its follow up, the darkly dystopian “The Scarecrow“—is out with a four-part series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” which will premiere on Hulu on February 17.

“Farmed and Dangerous,” which will not carry Chipotle branding, tells the story of fictional agricultural giant, Animoil, which produces a new petroleum-based animal feed called PetroPellet that seemingly has the deleterious side effect of making cows explode.

The talented Ray Wise stars as Animoil’s PR man, Buck Marshall, who must clean up the brand’s mess after a video of an exploding cow goes viral.

Chipotle Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker says, “Through programs like ‘Farmed and Dangerous,’ we are looking to make people more curious about where their food comes from and believe that the more people understand how food is produced, the more likely they are to make better decisions about the food they eat. That includes eating at restaurants like Chipotle.”

Chipotle, along with other brands, is rushing headlong into the content marketing space. While many are still experimenting with varying degrees of success, this transition seems natural given how ineffective traditional forms of online advertising have been over the past few years.

Chipotle’s shift into content creation and production arguably harkens to the days of the soap opera, when brands created content specifically to market their products. Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” indicates a similar yet innovative approach.

“It may be similar in that brands were really at the root of soap operas, or game shows in the beginning, but those often better resembled the product-integrations you see today. It was content designed to market products,” Crumpacker explains. “But that’s really where the similarity ends. When we created ‘Farmed and Dangerous,’ it wasn’t about producing content that we could then be a part of. In fact, Chipotle isn’t really in the show.”

He continues, “We’ve been thinking of ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ as more of a ‘values-integration’ than traditional ‘product-integration.’ The show is rooted in some of the problems we are working to solve or improve upon (the first season hits on the reliance of fossil fuels in large-scale farming), but it isn’t about us.”

The content of “Farmed and Dangerous,” while comical, is also quite graphic, highlighting some of the more seedy and repulsive aspects of industrial food production. Could this have the unintended side effect of turning viewers off of the idea of eating meat?

Crumpacker doesn’t think so. “The issues in the show are so over-the-top, I don’t think there’s much risk of people being turned off like that.” For Chipotle, it’s all about inspiring consumer curiosity. “If that happens, it will be a win for Chipotle.”

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