Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous ads: a lesson in ecosystem marketing; For marketers to capture their stakeholders’ imaginations, they need to think beyond company positioning and find a message that works for their entire business ecosystem

Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous ads: a lesson in ecosystem marketing

For marketers to capture their stakeholders’ imaginations, they need to think beyond company positioning and find a message that works for their entire business ecosystem

Benoit Beaufils, Monday 24 February 2014 20.04 GMT

Did you see the latest Chipotle ad?

In its Back to the Start campaign, Chipotle celebrated the beauty of small-scale farming as a source of ethical meat. In its new Farmed and Dangerous series, it attacks industrial food engineering. The ad is quirky, well done and really fun. (Check out the end line: “Those people died of eating, not of starving. That’s progress!”)

The ad has received its share of criticism – both from the agricultural community and reviewers such as Variety’s Brian Lowry – but also has
garnered plenty of praise and media attention, and has gone viral.

Why does it work?

In Creating Value People to People, a book I wrote with Innate Motion co-founder Christophe Fauconnier, we point out how Nelson Mandela (a fabulous source of insights for marketers) used “ecosystem thinking” to push his agenda in South Africa. Chipotle uses the same approach.

This ecosystem approach to marketing can be summarized as follows:

1. Understand that, as a business, you don’t thrive only on the relations you have with your consumers.

Any business operates in a complex eco-system. Numerous people and institutions are impacted by your work and affect yours. For Chipotle, a US-based chain of Mexican grill restaurants, the ecosystem includes consumers, meat farmers, farming and food NGOs and activists, nutrition NGOs and activists, and more.

In any business, some of the people in your ecosystem love you. Others don’t. If you work only for consumers, you ignore the potential positive or negative impact of the rest of the ecosystem.

2. Position your ecosystem, not your company. 
Positioning – as taught in business school – is probably on its way to a timely death.

In the case of Chipotle, listening to consumers and defining the single promise you can make to them (good old-style positioning) would lead to advertise juicy steaks and great taste – probably supported by a “unique” Mexican recipe.

But then, the people in the ecosystem will invite themselves at the table. Various groups will create noise that clashes with your brand story, claiming things like: Beef makes you fat. Cow’s methane is bad for the environment. Animals are ill-treated. Do you really want steak in your burrito?

A genuine understanding of your eco-system helps you move beyond the noise, and find the aspiration that could unite all these people. The conflicts within Chipotle’s ecosystem are obvious. (Less meat is better for health and fewer cows are better for the environment, while Chipotle wants to sell more to consumers who want better taste. Ouch.)

But these conflicts can be reframed: what we all want – from the nutritionists to the consumers – is better food. Food that does not kill the planet. Food that does not kill us. Can Chipotle help?

Positioning for the ecosystem means understanding the purpose that could unite the people who have a role in it and designing a values-based strategy that serves them all. Ethically sourced meat is better for all of us – it harms less; it tastes better. By taking position to make ethically sourced meat commonplace, Chipotle helps everyone.

3. Be an activist.

Think Mother Teresa. Think Martin Luther King. Think Nelson Mandela.

Activists pick a fight. They go after an enemy.

Activists use media and fame to be effective.

Activists act. They don’t tell a story; they embody it.

This is what Chipotle does. It chooses to go after the over-industrialization of the food chain, and its brand stories get millions of free views on Youtube.

And it puts its actions where its mouth is. Chipotle bans the use of antibiotics in the animals it buys. It works with ranchers to develop specific standards that define, for example, the space or food of the cattle they raise.

By buying ethically farmed meat, Chipotle actually helps the industry raise its standards. It becomes possible for quality farmers to sell their products at a better price, which enables more people to buy quality meat. It drives competition to follow suit. It makes antibiotics an issue. In principle, we all win.


That’s the killer question. A few months ago, Chipotle’s spokesman announced that the company was relaxing its antibiotics-free policy. The news sizzled on the internet, until Chipotle issued an “update” denying the intention to allow antibiotics.

Chipotle, it seems, is tied by the construct it has built.

Chipotle’s business thrives with its 2013 net income and profit per share up 17.8% and 19.7% respectively. It thrives on building better practices for its industry, demonstrating that sustainability work can be turned into a powerful marketing strategy.

But it now needs to live up to the promises.

For those who believe business should be a force for progress, and sustainability more than a year-end report, this is double good news.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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