The beleaguered burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill is hoping a cartoon will turn its fortunes around.
After months of low in-store foot traffic following a food safety scare in 2015, the company has released a four-minute animated film featuring a cover of The Backstreet Boys’ song I Want It That Way to draw attention to its stated mission about food quality.
The video features two children operating competing lemonade and orange juice stands. Driven by competition, the children go on to create lemonade and orange juice empires that evolve into fast-food chains anchored by 99-cent menu items and products with artificial flavors. The two, mortified at what they’ve created, decide to team up to dismantle the system they made by abandoning it and starting their own all-natural taco stand.
Chipotle (which the fast food giant McDonald’s was once the primary investor in) has done well with animated ads in the past, and it could certainly use a boost. The headlines in the last several months have been brutal for the once-irreproachable burrito chain. It started in 2015 with a food safety scare that wound up hospitalizing at least 22 people after they were sickened with E. coli. That’s when the company’s earnings slipped, setting off waves of concern on Wall Street about the chain’s ability to bounce back. Chipotle executives gave away free food and amped up promotions to get customers back in the door.
Then on June 30, some new and less-than-wholesome news broke: One of the company’s top executives, chief marketing and development officer Mark Crumpacker, had been charged by New York City authorities for repeatedly purchasing cocaine.
Chipotle has a tradition of releasing animated shorts, each one bearing a message pitting a simple, whole-food lifestyle against the supposed tyranny of industrial farming. The videos have done well online, and are generally viewed many millions of times on YouTube. They have also drawn the ire of agricultural groups who have claimed Chipotle’s shorts are preachy and misrepresent the food system.
The company’s first cartoon, a two-minute video titled “Back to the Start,” lambasted the food production system and has garnered more than 9 million views on YouTube since it was released in August 2011. A second video, “The Scarecrow,” came out in September 2013, and again aimed at industrial farming and food sustainability issues. It has raked in nearly 16 million views.
Whether this new video—which ends with a promotion of the chain’s new summertime burrito deal—gets people stepping back into the restaurant’s once-long lines remains to be seen.