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Chipotle’s Twitter account perfectly captures its desperation for customers

Reuters/Andrew Kelly
Crisis mode.
By Chase Purdy
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Chipotle Mexican Grill needs to get a grip.

In the wake of its devastating 2015 food safety crisis, the burrito chain is resorting to desperate measures to woo customers—including on its Twitter account. Apparently, efforts to market the quality and sustainability of its food, once the company’s main selling point, have given way to cheapening its product with copious food giveaways and base humor. A casual survey of the company’s recent tweets shows its messaging is littered with sexual innuendo and drug references.

The latest lewd references appeared in a mock poll (sex and drugs are referenced in the numbers chosen) posted to the company’s Twitter account.

“They’re desperate,” said Howard Penney, a consumer analyst at Hedgeye Risk Management. “There’s no doubt about it.”

And here’s a sampling of other recent lewd tweets from the company’s account:

The company’s Twitter managers have seemed unfazed by followers pointing out its off-color tone:

The off-color tweets are oddly interspersed with the occasional mention of the company’s social impact and original, forward-thinking mission of pushing quality food.

In a statement, Chipotle said its tweets aim to “engage with customers via social in a way that is fun and without taking ourselves too seriously. The nature of these tweets is not really a departure at all from what we’ve done for months, or even years.”

Its Facebook page, which presumably attracts more parents with children, is notably tamer, touting free kid meals, burritos buckled into child safety car seats, and story readings for kids.

The muddled Twitter messaging parallels the company’s managerial struggles. Indeed, same-store sales have plummeted since last year’s norovirus outbreak hit the company. Chipotle is also facing an employee-led class-action lawsuit over a wage dispute. Executives at the chain have spent several quarters seeking patience from Wall Street investors as they try to recover lost ground.

But a glorious comeback is looking less likely, according to analysts. In a Sept. 7 report, Nomura voiced concern about what the company is “realistically [likely] to be in coming years, not as it was before the challenges of 2015-16 came to be known.”

Penney said the company is suffering from a “delusional” management team. “They have said repeatedly that they think they can get back to peak margins, that they are not just another restaurant company,” he said.

There is some hope that Pershing Square Capital’s recent purchase of 9.9% of the company’s shares could shift Chipotle’s direction, giving activist investor Bill Ackman more of a say in Chipotle’s future.

As for its marketing, Chipotle’s tweets may serve as tea leaves for the kind of company it ends up deciding it wants to be.

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