During the 2012 TMT Predictions 2012: Looking ahead at the trends presentation I attended in Ottawa two weeks ago, I saw Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” video:

It was presented as an example of a new form of advertising. Notice how the brand’s logo appears only briefly. Rather than saying “We’re Chipotle, buy our tacos!” it creates a theme, a feel, an idea that you get caught up in.

One of the most famous ads of all time, Coca-Cola created a mood with this ad rather than pushing a "buy now" message.

Like Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop” TV ad (also known as “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”), Chipotle has not only positioned itself differently than its competitors, but used a different way to position itself.
Most restaurants use glossy pictures of steaks, burgers, fries and cold drinks. They appeal to our animal nature to eat. This ad climbs higher on Maslow’s Pyramid and focuses on our identity. Who do we want to be? Do we want to eat a taco with meat from an environmentally damaging farm? Or one that comes from a family-run, environmentally-friendly farm?
By the end of the ad, it’s pretty obvious.

So why does this ad work?

Very cleverly, this ad leads us down a path only to confront of us with changes, evoking an emotional reaction. And the emotional reaction is critical here. There are no words, no rationale explanation. This ad is aimed not at your head or stomach, but your heart:

  • We start off with cute animation. It’s not threatening, not intense.
  • We also have a family.
  • When the farm first starts to grow, it evokes thoughts of Farmville, further drawing our interest.
  • Then we get hit with the familiar voice of Willie Nelson.
  • As the farm grows, we’re probably thinking success, but then a highway suddenly cuts off the farmer and the color scheme becomes more gray, more washed out. This change is a very clear signal that something has gone wrong.
  • From there, we’ve been roped into this video and now watch as industrial farming takes over, complete with giant pills and squashing pigs into unnatural cube shapes to be shipped out.
  • But then there’s the moment of reflection and change.
  • The colors brighten, the music becomes more upbeat and we return to a simpler, purer idea.
  • And in the end, the farmer is a little older, but also (we infer) a lot happier.

What can we learn?

Old-style marketing messages of “Buy me!” are dying, especially in social media. As I have said before, the user is in control in the online world. They are looking for entertainment and information, not a sales-pitch. They decide what channels to follow and subscribe to. Another site is a click away.
To adopt to this new reality, brands will have to create an identity in the hopes their customers will want to be a part of it. To borrow terminology from Facebook, consumers will stop being “customers” and start becoming “fans.” Messages that appeal to something within those fans’ identities and values will work better than appealing to their stomachs or wallets.
What’s more, while customers may be loyal and buy repeatedly from you, fans become ambassadors and advocates who will stretch your message beyond your initial reach.
So if you have a company and want to survive in an age where people pass the time on their smartphones and tablets, surfing YouTube, give them something worthwhile to watch that will make them feel with their hearts, not their stomachs.