"Back to the Start" or Why This Big Winner is Actually Bad for Advertising

Coldplay's haunting classic 'The Scientist' is performed by country music legend Willie Nelson for the soundtrack of the short film entitled, "Back to the St...

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Comment by Michael B. Moore on June 25, 2012 at 4:29pm

I take no joy in throwing cold water on a party, but I have some “issues” with the Chipotle ad that won the First Branded Content Grand Prix at the recent Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Friends, great entertainment does not - in and of itself - make great advertising.  It’s not enough to create something that has great entertainment value and then inject some brand ID at the end and call it a day.   It’s not sufficient to create a ‘product placement’ level of presence in your own ad.  Advertising doesn’t work hard enough if it merely offers a “brought to you by”, sponsorship-like, brand connection.  

Great advertising leverages a core consumer insight - something that is fundamentally important to the brand’s consumers - to tell a story and show how the product and brand are uniquely positioned to add value to those consumers’ lives.  It’s not good enough to just be there in the spot.  The brand must provide a unique solution, solve some meaningful problem, and be the true hero of the work.  

Check out the P&G “Best Job” ad.  See how the products are integrated meaningfully into the story.  See how the product is interlaced - subtly but realistically - into the drama of  the spot.  See how the advertising leverages an enormous emotional reservoir to engage the viewer and cement the brand into their psyche.  Then ask yourself, what’s different about the Chipotle ad?

The Chipotle ad is fabulous nano-cinema.  The visuals and the music - and even the subject matter (on a farm) - are great.  It’s just too far of a stretch, though, to ask consumers to connect the literal story of this ad to the fast food that’s available at the local Chipotle.  

One measure to gauge an ad's effectiveness is to replace the brand with another and see if it still makes sense.  Take the Apple out of their commercials and not only do you still know what the ad is for, you “get” the Apple-ness even without the name.  Take the “Old Spice” out of their crazy ads and there’s still no question whose ad it is.  Remove Chipotle from this spot and you could just as easily replace it with a lot of other brands - Hillshire Farms, Oscar Meyer, Hormel, even McDonald’s  - you get the point.  

Even the final scene, with the words, “cultivate a better world” leave this viewer perplexed.  Is it really a logical connection to think that Chipotle - a Mexican fast-food franchise formerly owned by McDonald's - however different they may think they are, has a rational opportunity to change the world?  Perhaps, but it’s just too far of a stretch from where my current perception of brand ID is.  Frankly, it feels like yet another disconnect in the story.  It’s one thing to lead consumers and to try to shape an aspirational perception.  It’s another to offer a view that’s just too far out to believe.  This is something that CAA, the agency that created it, should have modulated in developing the spot.

Again, the ad is quite beautiful and a great execution of technology!  I just wish CAA focused more energy into strategically weaving that grand creativity around a story more strategic to the Chipotle brand; that worked harder at connecting to their consumers - to selling the brand and its products.  I just wish they made it do the things to transform great creative and entertainment into great advertising.  Unfortunately, it is examples of work like this - and the fact that it wins big awards - that reinforce less than productive approaches to advertising and makes it more difficult for companies to build their brands and businesses.

Add my voice to the growing conversation on how to inject greater strategic currency into advertising. Frankly, that would be great for both the clients and to the agencies who work for them (and want to be rehired perpetually).   :-)

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