PARIS– MipTV turned the spotlight on U.S. food chain Chipotle, which fully-financed “Farmed and Dangerous,” the Hulu comedy show toplining Ray Wise as Buck Marshall, a cynical spin doctor navigating the industrial agriculture world.
Chipotle earned MipTV’s Brand of the Year award for pushing the envelop with “Farmed,” a smartly-written and well-polished half-hour show which doesn’t even mention Chipotle but cultivates the brand’s “food with integrity” values.
The team behind “Farmed” – Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, and the show’s creators/writers/exec producers Tim Piper and Daniel Rosenberg — were on hand in Cannes to chat about how the show was made and how it benefited the brand.
Chipotle and Piro collaborated every step of the way, and came up with the provocative idea of having a charismatic villain, Buck Marshall, as the central character of the series. Through his eyes, audiences discover the unethical practices of a fictional industrial giant Animoil.
Chipotle never relied on traditional advertising. Its past campaign, for instance, featured Fiona Apple singing in an online animated short video called “The Scarecrow.” With “Farmed,” Chipotle leaped into entertainment long form and elevated branded content to a new height.
“I don’t have very much money in my marketing budget. That’s led us down this path of using very non-traditional marketing,” said Crumpacker. “While scripted original programming may seem like a more pricey option than traditional TV ads, it’s not,” said Crumpacker, who declined to speak about the show’s budget but revealed Chipotle’s marketing spendings represent 1.75% of its $3 billion in annual revenue.
Added Crumpacker: “The show costs less than a campaign in one big metropolitan area.”
It’s also well-known in the biz that hiring actors for a scripted show is usually cheaper than for an advertising spot, where the minimum rate is set by the SAG and is non-negotiable, according to Tom Bannister, helmer/producer at digital company SXW.
In terms of exposure, “Farmed” is way more effective than a 30-second TV spot. “It gives us four slots of thirty minutes to raise nearly all the issues we want to raise” (…) and we calculated that half way through the campaign it was already $10 million worth of PR value for us which is extraordinary,” pointed out Crumpacker.
Although “Farmed” received some positive reviews, it did not receive unanimous praises. Indeed, branded original programming is still controversial even in a market as sophisticated as the U.S..
“From Piro’s perspective as a company, we have our own forces that are working against us: The way the advertising business is set up, they don’t particularly love the idea of a show being the advertising, and that we don’t require as much media,” said Rosenberg. “And on the other side you’ve got television networks who don’t particularly like the idea that their advertisers are becoming the content, and the 30-second spot is going the way of the woolly mammoth.”
“Brands used to be a great source of income, they would take a step back, get placed within movies and have no say in the content while makers would just grab their money. Now we’re giving more power to these brands as long as they know how to create good entertainment,” claimed Piper.
Rosenberg noted that “Farmed” has a strong enough identity to turn itself into a brand, which is why Ben & Jerry recently advertised in “Farmed.” “As far as I know it’s the first time a third-party brand advertises within another brand’s entertainment,” said Rosenberg.
The four-episode show was a hit on Hulu: it got in the first two days the number of views Hulu thought it would be forever and became, per Crumpacker, “Hulu’s single most successful original content.” The exec also said the feedback through social media was 94% positive.
Speaking of the future of the series, Rosenberg said Piro was in advanced discussions with a prominent U.S. showrunner who’s a big fan of “Farmed and Dangerous” and compared it with “Get Smart.”
“When we head back to the States our plan is to have some meetings with U.S. studios as well as networks and put the whole package together, where we have a studio, Chipotle, a network and international distribution,” said Rosenberg.
As Hulu had exclusive first window rights, Piro is only now starting to talk to U.S. networks. Canada’s Tricon Films & Television handles international sales.
Crumpacker explained that Chipotle would be willing to sign on to making more episodes if the show was licensed in international markets or sold on to a network. “It would offset the cost of producing it and be a much easier decision to create more episodes and make multiple seasons of the show,” argued Crumpacker.
Wise told the audiences he looked at “Farmed” purely as a “theatrical venture:” “I read the script, I thought it was very funny and I had most of the great lines so it was a no-brainer for me.”
Wise also said he would be back for more episodes if the series were to get picked up by a network. “I think stuff made for the web is just as good now as stuff made for the major networks. It’s all becoming one.”