The Super Bowl is well known for expensive, flashy commercials that tend to be even more highly anticipated than the game itself. But this year, the commercial that’s gotten the most attention wasn’t a Super Bowl ad at all. This year’s unlikely advertising showstopper turned out to be a Chipotle ad that’s been on YouTube for months, but was aired nationally for the first time during the Grammy Awards show last Sunday. The two-minute spot, Chipotle’s first national television ad ever, features Willie Nelson singing Coldplay’s potent and popular song “The Scientist” over a sweet and simple cartoon story about a farmer’s journey to industrialization and back. A review in Time’s Entertainment section captures it well:
“Like many a great commercial, “Back to the Start” is a journey, in this case both figuratively and literally. The action unfolds linearly in a continuous left-to-right flow on the screen, absorbing you in the simple, children’s show-like visuals and engaging you in figuring what its narrative is about. It starts with a farmer, and some pigs, a pastoral setting that becomes gradually more industrial and alienating, as it erects corrals, then sheds, then animal warehouses and a mechanized distribution system—the modern industrial-food chain. The grim scene plays out, and out, until the music crescendoes and the farmer decides to “go back to the start,” tearing down walls and letting his animals range free.”
The ad’s clear and potent message, simply and beautifully illustrated using graphics and music, seems to have really hit home with a lot of people. The ad is being talked about all over the internet and was even praised by the unlikeliest of all news outlets. Believe it or not, Fox News came out in support of the ad’s message in an article on Monday, saying that “while people may dream of animals roaming free before being taken to slaughterhouses, in reality, most meat comes from animals held in cramped cages their entire lives, pumped full of drugs and food that plumps them up in a short amount of time.”
Is it possible that the trend toward more sustainably and humanely produced meat has finally entered the main stream? Chipotle has been making strides on the issue of local food sourcing as my colleague Akhila Vijayaraghavan covered back in June. All of Chipotle’s pork is raised in a humane, ecologically sustainable manner which means that the pigs get to be pigs. They also get no antibiotics and vegetarian feed with no animal by-products. One hundred percent of Chipotle’s chicken and 50 percent of its beef is also sustainably raised and the company is working to get all its beef to meet these standards as well. As Akhila pointed out, this makes Chipotle the largest restaurant buyer of humanely raised meat.
Other fast food outlets should take notice of the positive attention that Chipotle’s sustainable food sourcing is having as it presents a distinct opportunity for them to get into the game. As Joel Salatin, well known sustainable farmer of The Omnivore’s Dilemna fame points out in this excerpt from his lastest book, the biggest problem for fast food chains trying to source sustainably is that they have very narrow needs in terms of what cuts of an animal they use. This presents a problem for small farmers that need to sell the whole animal.
However, there is a solution. If more fast food restaurants were to start sourcing their meat from smaller producers, it would create more opportunities for them to form symbiotic partnerships – ways that restaurants that are located in close proximity can split up the different cuts of meat. This would offer local farmers a way to market their meat so it fits with their more sustainable production methods. The “Back to the Start” concept can be a reality for more farms if the fast food industry gets serious and starts collaborating to find ways to make supplying to them make sense for small farmers.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.