New Hulu Comedy Serves Up a Side of Chipotle

Restaurant chain goes for the soft sell in its branded "Farmed and Dangerous" series

Farmed and Dangerous

The name Chipotle is uttered just one time during the four 22-minute episodes of the new comedy series “Farmed and Dangerous,” which premieres Feb. 17 on Hulu. But the restaurant chain is hoping the show itself will speak volumes for its brand.

Chipotle is spending well over $1 million to produce the series (read the review here), which eschews the usual branded-entertainment tactics, such as showing characters eating burritos or saying “Brought to you by Chipotle.”

“It’s definitely on the risky side of marketing,” admits Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer for Chipotle. “We’re asking viewers to do a lot — to get engaged with a show and come back and watch more than one episode. To do that, we had to create pure entertainment.”

“Farmed,” which stars Ray Wise (“Reaper”) and Eric Pierpoint (“Heart of Dixie”), satirizes the lengths a fictional agribusiness corporation goes to create a positive image. The story focuses on the introduction of PetroPellet, a petroleum-based animal feed created by fictional industrial giant Animoil.

Chipotle has long avoided television when promoting its products, opting to spend marketing dollars elsewhere. The company’s campaign to educate consumers on how its food is prepared started with animated short films “Back to the Start” (2011) and last year’s “The Scarecrow,” both of which generated millions of views online.

Chipotle said it needed to produce a TV show rather than another short film because of the complex issues surrounding the production of food in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

“I wanted something longer to talk about all the issues, because there are so many,” Crumpacker says.

“Farmed” doesn’t duck them, dealing with the overuse of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, welfare of animals in confinement, the use of GMOs and the over-prevalence of processed foods.

“Chipotle was brave enough to not put its brand on this in any way,” says Daniel Rosenberg, co-producer of “Farmed and Dangerous” and co-founder of New York-based production shingle Piro, which co-produces the series. “They wanted to make it entertainment first and (marketing) messaging second.”

Financially speaking, “Farmed” may be a gutsy endeavor for Chipotle, but producers working in branded entertainment question the company’s move to embrace longform programming.

“To ask the consumer to dedicate four times their mindshare in one shot is a bit alarming to me as a marketer, and begs the question if Chipotle is riding the success wave of their initial launch a bit high,” says Jarrod Moses, CEO of branded-entertainment specialists United Entertainment Group. “It puzzles me why they wouldn’t continue to issue shortform, impactful and proven-to-be-successful content.”

Chipotle opted to produce the series and dedicate considerable marketing dollars to the project instead of using the traditional promotional strategy of fast-food chains, which hype new menu items and price discounts.

“The more people are curious about where their food comes from, the more questions they ask, and the more likely they are to end up at a company like Chipotle,” Crumpacker says.

Chipotle and Piro have developed “Farmed” with an eye toward adding episodes should the series find a fanbase. Chipotle would also like to find a partner to produce the show if it continues.

The company already has been approached through Hulu by a potential marketing partner to sponsor the online series, as well as to back Chipotle events the restaurant produces in three cities each year.

Crumpacker is optimistic the series will find its way to traditional television in some form.

“The idea was to have multiple seasons,” Crumpacker says. “We did four episodes to test the waters. We expect it to find a home on television later on.”