Chipotle’s New Advertising Gives Us Indigestion, Part One

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The big, fat, silver torpedo that is the Chipotle burrito is as iconic (in this city, anyway) as an Absolut bottle or a Converse shoe. So what better way to start off a brand new campaign than to ditch the thing you’re most famous for in favor of a bland, new Taco Bell-styled menu and some insipid value statements that are saturating the market in this shitty economy. Oh, and how about a new logo, too? Something that could sit nicely on the shelf at Target with the other Archer Farms produce?

Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners have, in one campaign, unraveled the hard work that so many agencies (including TDA Advertising & Design in Boulder) have built up over the last decade. No doubt a knee-jerk reaction to these tough economic times, the new work has abandoned the pithy wit and “it’s a big fucking burrito, eat it or sod off” attitude of the Chipotle of old, and replaced it with the lackluster positioning of “hey, come eat at Chipotle, because you’re poor and we understand that.” Pass me a bucket.

What was so great about the Chipotle advertising of the past what that is had personality and balls. Chipotle wasn’t just a place to eat, it was an attitude. Some of the ads I had loved in the past (all featuring the silver burrito) include:





These lines were the heart and soul of the Chipotle brand. They had the cool factor without trying too hard. They were honest, and they were memorable. They were a point of differentiation, a flag stuck firmly in the ground saying “this is who we are, take us or leave us.” And then along came marketing pussies and strategists who decided that a unique selling proposition was not all that valuable. Instead, Chipotle should jump on the bandwagon of VALUE and dump everything else in the trash. Oh, and throw away that big, fat, silver burrito, too. People know what it is, they don’t need to be reminded of it.

Now, I ask you, did you ever hear anyone say “man, I’d love to eat out tonight but Chipotle is so fucking expensive” in the last few years. That’s what I thought. Chipotle is fast food, it just happens to be great fast food. That’s why people lined up around the block when a new store opened. They wanted the big burrito. If they didn’t, they ordered something else, but the taste and flavor of the burrito was embedded in all of the other dishes (of which there weren’t many). Now, we have this LOW ROLLER MENU, which is a pale attempt to copy the dollar menus and value menus of the other chains. Why copy McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell? They suck. Do your own thing.

I, for one, don’t consider myself a low roller. I’m not a high roller either. I never thought $6 for a 1lb burrito was extravagant or costly. And now, a few bucks less for a small salad and a taco, well, that’s not tempting me at all.

This shitty work is a prime example of what happens when brands get scared and decide to follow the herd. Instead of zigging when everyone else is zagging, Chipotle has abandoned their steadfast position and have left it wide open for someone else with balls. It happened to Airwalk (read The Tipping Point). It almost happened to Sony. I never thought I’d see the day when it would happen to a brand like Chipotle. What a crying fucking shame.

Read Part Two.


  1. Sally O'Mall April 20, 2009

    Maybe that’s why BSSP is

    Maybe that’s why BSSP is hiring new “help” for the Chipotle account….

  2. Andrea April 20, 2009

    I have to look at it every

    I have to look at it every morning on my way to work. My corneas are burnt daily looking at the “single taco=$2.25” billboard. The first time I saw it I had to do a double-take and be sure it was Chipotle. And call me fucking cheap but I don’t think $2.25 for ONE taco is that great of a deal. My first thought was “$2.25 would get me 3 tacos at Taco Bell.” Granted, Chipotle is much better quality but their tacos ain’t big. Maybe I’m just still in that youngster-with-a-tight-wallet phase but overall I despise this campaign and it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth

  3. ø April 20, 2009

    Couldn’t agree any more.

    Couldn’t agree any more. After being overseas for 2 years, seeing the new bb around town was a state surprise. Chipotle seems to be applying fragile brand politics by shifting from kick-a$$ brand ads to a lame tactical campaign. I’m sure we will see a lot more formerly strong and aggressive brands adopting a similar approach soon.

  4. Media Rocks April 20, 2009

    terrible. all of it. I was

    terrible. all of it. I was actually at Chipotle last week and people there were actually bitching about the new campaign. You know its bad when you have someone outside of the industry complaining about it.

  5. squareassspoongeballz April 20, 2009

    a tiny salad and taco for

    a tiny salad and taco for $4.25 is no bargain. Especially if you’re still hungry afterward.

  6. Jay Weise April 20, 2009

    Yes, I’m very disappointed

    Yes, I’m very disappointed with this latest ad campaign. I felt like our home team had been taken over by an a new coach and players (messaging) in the middle of the night and all of a sudden we had a new stadium that had all new colors (signage/menus in the restaurants) that made no sense with the team I love.

    And by the way…I don’t think it’s a pound burrito anymore…have you noticed how they skimp on the amount of ingredients in your burrito lately? There is a sizable difference. Pay attention next time how much tortilla that overlaps around the contents next time, way too much overlap compared to the ‘good old days’!

    and to your point TDE “Something that could sit nicely on the shelf at Target with the other Archer Farms produce”…. I thought the same thing when I saw the logo…it looks just like the stuff at Target!?

    That is all.

  7. Guy April 20, 2009

    So much of this kinda thing

    So much of this kinda thing happening in the UK right now it’s not even funny.

    That said, there are fewer brands with “balls”.

    More likely “a gentleman’s nether-regions”.

  8. Justin McCammon April 20, 2009

    Who would have thought that

    Who would have thought that Chipotle would fuck up its brand like this not while under Mcd’s ownership, but now that it’s separate and public?

    I don’t understand why brands move away from what makes them unique. Why is different a liability? It should be an asset.

    Chipotle had so many things that made it unique too, natural ingredients, simple, customizable menu, aforementioned attitude.

    To me this is worse than the Tropicana clusterfuck. I mean, that was just packaging / and the look of the brand (which is a lot) but at least they had the same old juice inside. This is a goddamn brand lobotomy.

  9. Zach April 20, 2009

    Huge transition from the old

    Huge transition from the old brand. Old logo and branding is still on the website. I wonder what kind of politics on the branding of the new campaign went down because the new CMO is co-founder of brand consulting firm Sequence, who design the original identity system in 1993 and the new one. In addition to that Sequence managed the search for Chipotle and hired a SF-based agency.

  10. Alexis April 20, 2009

    Are a taco and a side salad

    Are a taco and a side salad supposed to be a good deal for $4.25? Who the heck goes to Chipotle and buys a small cup-o-salad? Whats wrong with the Burrito Bol? Its not much more expensive and it seems like you would get more. I know logos change and all but seriously “low baller” who the heck came up with that term, sort of derogatory if you ask me. I wonder if Qdoba will create a craptastic menu too in order to keep up with the times (or whatever they think they are doing.)

  11. Alexis April 20, 2009

    I meant “Low Roller” ha ha!

    I meant “Low Roller” ha ha! C’mon Chipotle seriously.
    (My favorite was the cup with all of the mispronunciations of Chipotle, so funny and true. My Mom still uses the “italian variation, Chipoletti”, good stuff.

  12. paul suggett

    paul suggett April 20, 2009

    QDoba have a wide-open

    QDoba have a wide-open opportunity to exploit this now. If I were head of advertising at Q, I would respond with ads that pushed huge burritos and massive flavor. No value menus, no cheap versions of good dishes. This is their chance to do a “Checkmate” on Chipotle.

  13. Sienna April 21, 2009

    It’s sad that these

    It’s sad that these billboards are losing the pithy, irreverent tone. And the white space? Where did all the simple black and white ads go? I have to say though, that the new logo is kinda cool. Hopefully, they can dig themselves out of this ad campaign screw-up.

  14. b1tr0t April 21, 2009

    I like the Q much better

    I like the Q much better anyway.

  15. larry hinkle April 21, 2009

    this makes me glad i live in

    this makes me glad i live in the springs. we still have real chipotle.

  16. chad ridgeway April 21, 2009

    What happened to their Brand

    What happened to their Brand Manifest: “Food With Integrity”? With this new menu/wimpering attitude, right out the window.

  17. Adam Gostenik April 21, 2009

    Maybe they’ll get rid of the

    Maybe they’ll get rid of the giant silver burrito that floats around in the Pepsi center dropping T-shirts, and replace it with a small taco hanging from a few balloons. That would at least be symbolic of what they’ve done with the brand.

  18. adrian April 21, 2009

    this post is dead on, never

    this post is dead on, never eating there again!

  19. not important April 23, 2009

    The picture with the salad

    The picture with the salad canister is so lovely.

  20. Erik April 23, 2009

    The creative is bland,

    The creative is bland, hopefully the food isn’t. Honestly this menu might get me in the door more often. I’ve put myself on a strict 1 chipotle burrito per week diet because I was putting on the pounds after starting a job in a building 1 block away from a Chipotle. Always wishing they had something smaller on their menu.

  21. sean April 23, 2009

    the creative is bland

    the creative is bland
    the strategy is bland
    the copy is bland – i guess there food will likely be bland now too.

  22. Jackie April 23, 2009

    They should call it the roll

    They should call it the roll over menu instead of the low roller menu

  23. Thom April 23, 2009

    Good god that work is tragic!

    Good god that work is tragic!

  24. Rebecca April 23, 2009

    Bring on the window clings.

    Bring on the window clings. Long one of my favorite brand, I’m terrifically saddened by this approach.

  25. AnotherOne April 23, 2009

    Oh come on now…why you have

    Oh come on now…why you have to call out Denver’s own(now) Airwalk. The notorious brand direction outlined in Malcom Gladwell’s book is in no way similar to what is happening with Chipotle’s ad campaign. Airwalk wasn’t ‘following the herd’ it was trying to market to a new one, and though the direction is one that didn’t quite work out, it was at least unique and well done. Be careful with your Comparison’s…..‘Apple’s to Oranges’, as the saying goes.

  26. Felix April 23, 2009

    Sorry “Another One” but the

    Sorry “Another One” but the comparison absolutely stands up. The market Airwalk was trying to capture WAS the herd. They abandoned their niche and tried making shoes for everyone. And when the cool skater kids saw old geezers and grandmas wearing Airwalks, they decided to stop wearing them. They weren’t cool any more.

    Now compare. Chipotle has abandoned the attitude and unique, simple menu in favor of trying to appeal to a broader audience. In doing so, they are becoming more bland and have no USP. And brand loyalists are pissed off. Sound familiar? Hardly Apples to Oranges.

  27. Warren April 27, 2009

    As an advertising writer, I

    As an advertising writer, I always admired the pithy headlines and ads. Shame where it’s gone. But I also can’t believe Butler, Shine & Stern would crank out such crap. They’re a solid agency that’s knocked out some stellar work over the years—not sure how they could mess things up so badly on a dream client like Chipotle.

  28. AnotherOne April 29, 2009

    No, Airwalk tried to take a

    No, Airwalk tried to take a specialty core brand to a mainstream consumer. Is there a large fanatical “Core burrito” demographic out there?

    Face it. You’re wrong. Apples to Oranges.

  29. ZachM April 30, 2009

    These ads look like they

    These ads look like they belong to Taco Bell. They have forgotten their own branding and what it represented. I resent this campaign almost entirely.

  30. Felix April 30, 2009

    Is there a large fanatical

    Is there a large fanatical “Core burrito” demographic out there?

    No. But there is absolutely an audience for the old Chipotle brand. These “Core Chipotle” lovers, who adored the simple menu and witty advertising are immensely put off by this. Trust me, I’ve talked to enough of them to know that they are already switching to QDoba.

  31. AnotherOne April 30, 2009

    @Felix It’s not that I do not

    @Felix It’s not that I do not see your point, it is that you are talking about a whole different demographic. Fans of the airwalk brand were skaters by lifestyle. they labeled themselves skaters. They looked at outside corporations with suspicion, wanting to keep the cultural roots of their lifestyle authentic. They wore the brand as a part of their identity, so when the mainstream push happened, that portion of their ‘identity’ became mainstream, thus backlash.

    There is no demographic of people that label themselves ‘burrito eaters’. They don’t eat burrito’s as a lifestyle. They do not wear burrito’s as a part of their identity.

    Chipotle did not begin their first marketing campaign targeting youth that ate their burrito’s as part of their identity. They began their campaign as a regional niche marketing campaign to reach a broad range of demographics within a specified geographic area. They did not specifically target a core audience of early adopter “burrito eaters” in hopes that word of mouth and the style of burrito’s offered would appeal to the identities of demographics who wanted to start eating burrito’s as well.

    See what I am saying?

    Again, apples to oranges.

  32. Felix April 30, 2009

    I also see what you’re

    I also see what you’re saying, but again, I disagree. Look at the t-shirts Chipotle franchises sell (or used to). People are literally wearing the brand. And check out the average Chipotle customers. It’s not the same as your average Taco Bell customer. There are a lot more students and young, hip, cool people. The attitude that Chipotle first adopted was not aimed at your average fast-food customer. It made a play for a different type of consumer and got them. Now it is veering away from those early adopters. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  33. Chris Lawson April 30, 2009

    Agreed Felix. I would have

    Agreed Felix. I would have happily worn an old Chipotle t-shirt with a cool slogan, it represented something good. There’s no way I’d wear one from the new corporate-whore image they have created. What would that say about me? That I love mediocrity now?

  34. Mark Trueblood May 21, 2009

    I am fully prepared for the

    I am fully prepared for the slings and arrows. But seriously, Chipotle is not that good. Never has been. And I first ate one about 9 years ago. I understand that they’re convenient, reasonable and seemingly fresh. And it fills you up. Also, definitely a step above Taco Bell.

    But with a little bit of Internet research, you can find a locally-owned restaurant in your area that probably makes a burrito that’s 10 times more flavorful than anything Chipotle sells. For that matter, with about 15 minutes of shopping and 5 minutes of preparation, you can make a better burrito than Chipotle for the same price.

    My intuition is that they’re realizing the novelty is wearing off. But instead of making better product, or pushing for more compelling marketing, they’re handling it in an all-too-typical scaredycat client fashion.

  35. Lynz June 2, 2009

    Someone said they like the

    Someone said they like the new logo… really? omgwtf?!?!? (yes, I went there). The new logo looks like a sad, withered takeoff of the Chili’s logo. Are those restaurants even still around?

  36. Crumpackerhater August 7, 2009

    My agency pitched this

    My agency pitched this business. The first thing I said to the CEO and CMO was, I love the voice of your brand. I was excited to work on the business and was bummed out when we didn’t get selected. Not so bummed out now. Yeah, the new agency shares in some of the blame, but Crumpacker the new CMO, really screwed the pooch on this one.

  37. Chris April 12, 2010

    The saddest one, in my
    The saddest one, in my opinion, says “Tastes so good you’ll almost want to pay more for it”. Yech.
    On the bright side, it says, “for a limited time only”. Maybe they’ll ditch this campaign and we can all pretend like this bizarre brand-marring fiasco never happened.

  38. Ben May 12, 2010

    It was commented that maybe
    It was commented that maybe something like this would be understandable if Chipotle were still owned by McD and not a publicly traded company. Well guess what. They are a publicly traded company STILL OWNED by McD. McD is the majority stock holder so it makes perfect sense that something like this would happen. But in the grand scheme of things, people that love Chipotle for it’s big ass burritos will still go get them some big ass burrito. Yeah it may suck for people critical of advertising, but as a company they are trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And if by adding a “value” menu to their current one gets more customers, then they’ve succeeded. The penny pushers don’t care about image. They care about bottom line. And being in a store, I never got the sense that Chipotle even had a “we don’t give a shit” attitude. It’s business. Plain and simple.

  39. Boulderite December 6, 2010

    As a marketing professional
    As a marketing professional and consumer, I loved the original advertising (TDA) and the huge burritos respectively. The ads reflected the originality of the brand and leeway they had with the creative being a small, hip company. Now they have become just like every chain. Their burritos are smaller, I hate the previous 2 menu changes, and the bags covered with copy bored me to tears.

  40. Matt Kent March 4, 2011

    This is always a challenge
    This is always a challenge for a company as when there is a successful brand and the company is actively attempting to grow their market share often this conflict will raise its head. I have recently read an article on McDonald’s, yes the famous McDonald’s Burger chain has gone upmarket in Tokyo. All signature advertising and color have been removed, in favor of a contemporary cafe theme, with just a picture of the cheese burger as its form of marketing. Very clever is our McDonald’s.

    Trade Show Displays

  41. Dougie Brisbane March 10, 2011

    Matt, you are correct. This
    Matt, you are correct. This is risk taking, but one that is most likely measured and controlled. Great comment!

    Promotional Products

  42. Marcus Rimmer April 18, 2011

    It’s a shame when these
    It’s a shame when these familiar and steadfast brands decide to switch their branding campaigns when they’ve been doing so well on their own. An inject of new blood perhaps?

    Cost of TV Advertising

  43. Scott June 16, 2011

    Well, based on the examples
    Well, based on the examples you provide, I’d have to agree that Chipotle’s new advertising leaves a bit to be desired, and they’ve lost a bit of the classic attitude, but the truth is, their burritos are still as tasty as ever, and one eats the food, not the ad! Scott, Pinnacle Show Booth Displays
    PS. I was just at Chipotle’s last weekend, and now I think I’ll be going back this weekend! 🙂

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