September 20, 2013

There are a couple of problems with the much-buzzed-about “Scarecrow” Chipotle ad. It’s gotten almost 6 million views on YouTube, with its vision of a CGI-animated scarecrow going to work at some kind of Sinister Mass Food-Producing Corporation That Does Cruel and Hideous Things to Its Cows and Chickens, then having a moment of revelation after he goes home to his garden, and, I think, launching some sort of independent produce/burrito stand — all to the soulful strains of Fiona Apple singing “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Here’s the original.

There are a number of problems with this, one of which is highlighted in the Funny or Die parody.

But that’s not the only thing wrong with it.

To quote a friend who watched the Chipotle commercial, “That doesn’t make me want to eat Chipotle. That makes me want to curl up in a vegan coma and never eat again.”

This is really the problem with this video’s being an ad for a large chain restaurant. Yes, it’s nice that they are stepping up to show their concern for sustainable farming, on the record. But if you didn’t know it was an ad for Chipotle, you would think it was an ad telling you to avoid all food ever that didn’t come directly from a cheerful cow passing you the milk herself and saying that she felt okay about it. LOOK AT THAT POOR COW! LOOK AT HER EYES! LOOK AT THAT SUFFERING CHICKEN! How are you supposed to order the chicken burrito anywhere, even Chipotle? How are you supposed to eat any chicken again? I know that Chipotle’s point is that they are conscientious, but “conscientious,” short of a chicken who hands you the knife herself with a hand-written note saying that she has achieved all her life goals, found peace, and is looking forward to rejoining her family, still doesn’t cut it after animation this cute. In fact, even that scenario is incredibly depressing.

This ad is like asking you to eat the cast of “Toy Story.” This is like Bambi, except that it’s somehow an ad for a restaurant where Bambi’s mother is on the menu. In the course of typing this, I realized that both beef and steak are on the menu at Chipotle and I curled up under my desk and sobbed wordlessly for several minutes, remembering the eyes of that cow. COW, YOUR FAMILY IS IN THAT BURRITO! Where is Temple Grandin and her wonderful hugging device when we need her? I’m not even a vegetarian! How have you done this to me, Chipotle?

You can’t say it’s not a powerful commercial. I no longer cry at weddings. I only cry at massive national ad campaigns. But this ad seems designed to drive you into the arms of the farmer’s markets and away from the Greasy Mysterious Substances that are currently being peddled to us under the Golden Arches (which, incidentally, used to be investors in Chipotle, but aren’t now). Maybe it works too well.

As the same friend noted, “I was actually planning on Chipotle tonight. But I think I’ll just eat some old birthday cake instead. That’s still somehow less depressing.”

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.