Five lessons from Chipotle's Cannes Grand Prix Wins


Congratulations to everyone who contributed to Chipotle’s charming animated film “Back to the Start”, which has been awarded Grand Prix in both the Film Lions and the inaugural Branded Content & Entertainment category at the Cannes Festival

Those of us who are investing a lot of time and energy in content marketing can take at least five positive lessons from this outstanding piece of work:

Chipotle’s starting point was a genuine commitment to supporting sustainable farming and “food with integrity”. In many companies this may have been relegated to low-key PR or a video buried on the corporate web site. Chipotle had the vision to make it a leading element of its communication with consumers, via an imaginative content strategy.

“Back to the Start” is a touching depiction of the life of a farmer as he turns his family farm into a “Big Agriculture” factory before seeing the error of his ways. Crafted expertly by Johnny Kelly and his team at Nexus, it’s a superb piece of storytelling.

The legendary Saatchi & Saatchi Creative Director Paul Arden said: “music is 50% of the film”. “Back to the Start” demonstrates that pearl of wisdom spectacularly well. Willie Nelson’s haunting cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was an inspired choice and reached number one in the iTunes Country chart.

There is much to be learned from the way in which the “Back to the Start” campaign was pieced together. Jesse Coulter, co-chief creative officer of CAA Marketing, who conceived the work, talks about the application of what he calls “pop culture math”: “What’s the equation of pop culture elements that will resonate with a large audience? Why would people like this? Why should people care?”

In Chipotle’s case, the “equation” included a digital-first, earned media strategy, later boosted by running the full-length film in cinemas and during the Grammy awards broadcast, with the important message that all iTunes profits would go to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, which was set up to help create “a sustainable, healthful and equitable food future”.

Did people like it and did people care? Well, nearly 6.5m views so far on YouTube and Willie Nelson’s chart success suggest they did. CAA claims that Chipotle became 'Number 4 Most Buzzed About Ad Online' and 'Number 1 For Positive Brand Sentiment' according to NYTimes/Zeta.

The fact that this double Grand Prix-winning work was a collaboration between a company with deep roots in entertainment as a talent agency and a ground-breaking animation house shows that the booming branded content sector is opening up exciting new opportunities for companies outside the traditional ad agency orthodoxy: companies that really "get" entertainment and understand how brands can grip audiences.

What do you think makes a compelling piece of branded content? What other examples besides Chipotle stand out?

Andy Bryant, Director, Creative