Chipotle Goes Long on Long-Form Propaganda

If you didn’t catch the four-part, 87-minute Chipotle miniseries on hulu.com, I can save you some time…
Farmed Dangerous
Thoughts after watching the first episode (2/17/14)…

Chipotle debuted the first episode of its four-part “Farmed and Dangerous” miniseries on Hulu today, building on the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” While those two animated videos portrayed straightforward hero journeys, the new series is a satirical sendup of an exaggerated dystopian present.
Trying to elevate marketing to a form of beneficent propaganda, Chipotle hopes “Farmed and Dangerous” will also elevate the debate about sustainable farming practices (and sell more burritos, obviously). The first show introduces the premise that big oil and big farming are in cahoots, shoving new industrial farming methods down our throats (pun intended), while trying to keep down resurgent sustainable farmers.
A New Yorker article puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.” And anyone interested in whether movies or TV can actually move the needle might want to read a recent study called “Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” co-authored by Todd Adkins and Jeremiah Castle of the University of Notre Dame. Slate.com expanded on the study’s thesis, explaining how at least seven movies have actually changed the beliefs or views of moviegoers through before and after surveys.
“Farmed and Dangerous” may succeed in showing how dystopian our current industrial farming is only if it continues to surprise viewers with levels of satire and irony. The first episode took its time laying out the premise, which is not all that revolutionary in and of itself, but it will need to continue to surprise to really drive the message home.
The success of a film like The Matrix, on top of all of its many levels of meaning and craft, benefits partly from the ingenious plot construction that keeps first-time viewers in the dark and leads to bigger and deeper surprises. The first big surprise comes a full 30% into the movie, where the entire premise of the movie is first revealed, and what seemed real in the opening scenes was only a construct of a dystopian future.
So much has been written about Apple’s 1984 Macintosh commercial that I would do well not to claim a blinding new insight here. However clever it is, it is not merely the cleverness and its metaphorical message that it contains that might have changed people’s perspective. Its profundity lies in the premise that computer users were already well into a dystopian future that they had scant hope of escaping—until, ironically, 1984 came and with it, the Macintosh.

Thoughts after watching fourth and final episode (3/10/14):

The fourth and final episode of the Chipotle-produced miniseries “Farmed and Dangerous” posted on Hulu.com this morning. It’s a lot to ask an audience to wait for punch lines of satirical jokes drawn out over four weeks an hour-and-a-half of buildup.
While some are worth the payoff, some maybe fall a little short. But if you only watch the final episode, you probably get the premise, the moral landscape, and the punch lines.
The extra time did give the producers time to be pedantic and point out all the bad ways Big Oil, Big Ag, and Big Industry are corrupting our society. And PR, for that matter. In the final episode, the villain Buck Marshall quips: “McDonald’s doesn’t own Chipotle, that’s just a rumor I started.” (Fact checker: McDonald’s was a major investor from 1998 to 2006.)
The fill-in time supplies propaganda (the word is not only negative) about the main sustainability topics of the day, from the negative effects of GMOs to the true costs of food products on retail shelves. The drama hinges on the female lead, Sophia, having a conscience and choosing sustainable farming over her father’s PR firm promoting Animoil, the offspring of the marriage between Big Ag and Big Oil.
Chipotle is trying to springboard off the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” A New Yorker article last month puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.”
Plot twists are few once the premise is set, but there are a couple of choice-cut ones at the end that are worth a chuckle. Whether the new form has legs is reliant on the density of the information, the level of the subversiveness, and, of course, whether it’s actually entertaining. This experiment erred on length, discussion, and detail to appeal to very wide audience. It was a long way to go, but not as long as the journey back to more sustainable farming practices.
The producers tipped their hand for a joke, making the point that all media is, after all, propaganda, when one flack suggests: “What if we produce a satire that pulls back the curtain on the disturbing world of sustainable farming?” Satirizing the satirists is an even trickier proposition, but the proposition hits close to home.


Finite or Infinite Games: Which Do you Prefer?

“Which do you prefer?” is actually a rhetorical question, as everyone plays both finite and infinite games as defined in the James P. Carse book Finite and Infinite Games. In fact, Carse asks no questions in the book, which, amazingly, is now almost 30 years old.

Carse, a religious scholar and now-former NYU professor, posits a poetic philosophy built on a number of telling dichotomies. Carse’s distinction between the two kinds of games is more descriptive than prescriptive, but nevertheless carries tremendous weight.

The book seeks to illuminate the different ways individuals view their roles and actions in life, society and culture. How one responds to any particular situation depends on whether that person feels they are engaged in a finite game or an infinite game.

And the crystalline purity of the sentences can be mesmerizing:

“Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings.”
“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.”
“The homelessness of nature, its utter indifference to human existence, disclose to the infinite player that nature is the genius of the dramatic.”
“Evil is not the inclusion of finite games in an infinite game, but the restriction of all play to one or another finite game.”

The structure of the book is 101 logically sequenced short sections that each jump off on a narrow thesis but end conclusively. The structure keeps the author’s thoughts succinct and orderly. The language is poetically inspired because it builds on the implications of simple statements by creating new meanings, which create new implications, which create new meanings, and so on.

The book starts with the difference between finite and infinite games, and then expands on other dichotomies that this semantic distinction might require. So begins section 1:

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

These introductory statements open up realms of possibility by offering new perspectives on both mundane and spiritual aspects of human interaction, experience, and achievement. Dichotomies arise from the central dichotomy, pitting against each other refined definitions of Society and Culture, the Theatrical and the Dramatic, and Power and Strength, among others.

It is poetic, too, in the genius of creating an infinite game of its own. The book does not set out to achieve a stated goal. It merely builds on its own corollaries and inductive reasoning, and follows wherever that might lead, to compelling results.

I’d like to tell you how the ideas in the book relate to what we do here, but I’d rather you read it without any more preconceptions than I’ve already planted.


Buy the Finite and Infinite Games on Amazon.

 Finite Games1

The New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference Measures Up

How would you recognize a truly sustainable business if you saw one?

That was one of the more ambitious questions at the New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference, hosted by Sustainable Brands in Philadelphia. Luckily, each of some 30 sessions during the conference Tuesday and Wednesday offered pieces of the complex answer.

One tactic of the sustainability movement is to persuade, cajole or force businesses to recognize the value of measuring sustainability by showing how it impacts their bottom line. One of the chinks in the armor is corporate risk management.

With more than 2.6 million credit ratings in play at one time, these ratings have an enormous effect on shifts in market value. As long- and short-term environmental risk management grows in importance in credit ratings, the conversation will necessarily change.

Before that happens wholesale, there are still many new metrics arguments to be made that help CEOs, CFOs and CMOs see intrinsic and extrinsic value in more sustainable business practices. The refreshing aspect of the conference sessions was that hard facts and data were behind every attempt to quantify sustainability gains — and quantify the value of measuring them — in business activities. The frustrating aspect was that many of the proven, reliable measures and initiatives in place today are still slow to transition to the mainstream.

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was a fitting venue for the third year of this Sustainable Brands forum, given the school’s motto, “Laws without morals are in vain,” and the fact that the school is my alma mater. Jeffrey Smith, partner at Crowell & Moring law firm and Advisory Council member of SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), added another layer by quoting Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin: “The great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.”

Read the rest of my article on Greenbiz.com here.

Check out the conference presentations here.

Also, think about reading this book: How to Measure Anything, subtitled “Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.”

Finally, a favorite quote of mine from Galileo…

“Measure what is measurable, make measurable what is not so.”

Lending a Helping Hand for Innovation

The payoff for a packaging innovation is almost impossible to quantify beforehand. Nevertheless, truly helpful ones, like this great example of a trigger sprayer incorporated into a bottle design, courtesy of Packaging World.

Innovation is not easy. It’s usually very hard. It’s not a flash of inspiration out of the blue. It’s a flash of recognition after 1,000 other ideas hit the cutting room floor. But when it connects with consumers at an intuitive level, the package itself can become the biggest marketing asset that brand can leverage.

The Wet & Forget Shower Cleaner succeeds on many levels. The trigger is functional and appropriate. It’s easy to remove from the handle and easy to install. The cap doesn’t even have to be removed, saving one small yet significant step. But maybe most importantly, shoppers “get it” right away standing in store aisles.

The biggest hurdle to innovation is not the creative spark. Instead, it’s managing the usually-too-many cooks that tend to spoil the stew. Ideally, all the cooks should have cross-functional capabilities that make communicating between departments efficient and effective. In addition, establishing a chain of command is essential to get the recipe right.

But always start with consumers. What are their unmet needs? What could make life easier for them? What new value can you add? Only then can you determine what innovation might mean in the real world.

Here’s a list of things to consider when developing an innovation mindset that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand and package development tips from yours truly.

Good and Good for You…Cheerios

Studying the history of heritage brands always turns up some odd plot twists. Cheerios, for instance, first built its point of differentiation around taste and convenience. Over the years, the brand position has moved with the times, and is now firing on many “healthy” cylinders simultaneously. Its authentic positivity, resolutely stated, has kept the brand highly relevant through the years.

“Heart-healthy” has been a main product feature in recent decades, but the brand has not always fully embraced what has become a matter of fact. That is, for the many parents who avoid processed foods for infants at all costs, Cheerios is the first packaged, branded product that those parents trust.

The brand is returning again to that message on several levels. First, with a “controversial” TV ad that should not have been controversial in this day and age. More engaging on a personal level, though, is a bold new packaging campaign that breaks convention with a spare back panel on Cheerios boxes. Words like “Trusted” and “Smile” are writ large and centered on a wide yellow field that glows ever so slightly behind the text.

The “Trusted” box proudly states: “Tried and true, Cheerios is the first finger food so many moms trust for their little ones.” The “Smile” box says: “Perfectly familiar and crunchy, there’s something about the taste of Cheerios that kids never outgrow.” These messages are authentic and resonant to brand loyalists as well as consumers that may be thinking about returning to the brand.

The original “Cheeri Oats” recipe was 75% ground oatmeal and 25% corn and rye flours. Today, the first of seven total ingredients (only seven!) is still whole grain oats. The oats are now combined with corn starch and wheat starch, and just a little sugar and salt.

The convenience angle in the early days was that kids and adults could get their morning serving of oats without having to cook them. That should make the whole family cheery! The brand promise was in the brand name, deftly combined a few years after its introduction into one word, Cheerios.

Dropping the “oats” from the name was a tradeoff. It served one targeted purpose for the times, as it downplayed negative associations with healthy food to compete head-to-head with sweeter competition. Yet, in the long run, it negated a broader gain, that of its hearty, healthy position. The brand would have to wait for the culture pendulum to swing back before pushing that benefit hard again.

I may be an anecdotal anomaly, but I didn’t realize the relative healthiness of Cheerios until my toddler’s doctor approved of the cereal. This was a funny realization after eating and loving cooked oats for breakfast… for decades! For whatever reason, the oats connection in the “o” of Cheerios didn’t come through to me, an oats lover.

Nevertheless, Cheerios succeeds in many positive messages, whether it’s a heart shaped bowl on its front panel or a campaign that promotes reading at a young age. One last positive, sustainable message on the package is given rather low prominence, at the bottom of one side panel. In a small rectangle, the text says:

Our Mission is Nourishing Lives
We guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of our products, and we are committed to nourishing lives, to protecting our environment, and to giving back to our global communities.

BONUS LINKS:

Cheerios through the years

Sustainable packaging initiative video

National Cereal Day

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