by Lisa Peyton

Recently Chipotle, a publicly traded fast food chain, has launched the Scarecrow campaign that consists of a microsite, an animated short film, a soundtrack and a game for the iPhone and iPad. If you are unfamiliar with the campaign, you can read more about why it was so sucessful in my post, ‘Chipotle #Scarecrow Campaign: Advertising or narrative and WHY it worked’. The microsite, http://www.scarecrowgame.com/, asks users to ‘join Chipotle and the Scarecrow on a journey to bring real food back to the people. Play the game, watch the animated short film, and find out how to take action’. The site links to The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, http://www.cultivatefoundation.org/, that is ‘dedicated to creating a sustainable, healthful and equitable food future.’

Has Chipotle succeeded in creating a transmedia campaign that will entice users to engage with their brand, change their underlying beliefs and ultimately buy more burritos? Let’s find out.

Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock present a model of narrative persuasion that attempts to determine the impact of narrative on viewers beliefs. Their Transportation- Imagery Model includes five postulates that work together to determine how successfully a narrative will transport the viewer and impact their thoughts and feelings (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002). The postulates or components of this model include:

1) A narrative in which images are evoked and in which viewers’ beliefs are implicated

2) Activation of psychological transportation defined as a state in which the reader becomes absorbed in the narrative world

3) Attributes of the recipient such as imagery skill impact propensity for transportation

4) Attribute of the text such as artistry and craftsmanship impact the propensity for transportation

5) Attributes of the context or medium impact the propensity for transportation

Is it a story?

The first postulate states that a story with a narrative structure is required to transport the viewer (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002). I would argue that the Scarecrow video provides a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. The primary character is dissatisfied with the current situation, setting up a conflict. He then seeks out a solution and acts upon it, thereby playing out the moral of the story and providing a resolution.

Was I Transported?

The second requirement for this model is that the viewer be transported. Transportation into a narrative world is conceptualized as a distinct mental process and can impact how a narrative effects a viewers beliefs (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002). Transportation is defined as a process where all of the person’s mental systems and capacities become focused on the events occurring in the narrative. This can include a psychological distance from reality and a loss of public self-awareness. Transportation may offer an escape from real-life problems and stress and this release may serve as motivation for users seeking transporting experiences.

The beautiful animation and compelling soundtrack of the Scarecrow video might briefly transport viewers, however the game platform offers up increased engagement and requires additional capabilities to participate. The narrative of the Scarecrow feeding the world with sustainable food is carried over into the game. The user is asked to complete a series of missions that require hand-eye coordination and take’s a first-person perspective, putting the game-player in the shoes of the hero of the story, the Scarecrow. Many game players and developers are familiar with ‘Flow’, a concept related to transportation and something that is seen as desirable. In order to create an experience that enables ‘flow’ it’s important to evenly match the game challenge with the skill level. This can extend to transportation and suggests that if the narrative is too simplistic or too complicated, transportation will not occur (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002).

The Scarcrow game may have required increased attention but it didn’t become a ‘flow’ experience for me. The game was too simplistic and I had reached the finish line, winning the promised burrito in about 30 minutes. This may not have been the case for other players with varying skill levels. Ultimatly the game did require that I engage with the Chipotle brand in a new way. Aspects of the game were created to help bring the player into the world of the Scarecrow. These included environmental noises that mimicked being on a farm or in a factory and game play that was depicted in the first person, from the perspective of the Scarecrow himself.

But is it art?

The fourth postulate take a look at artistry and argues that craftsmanship directly impacts transportation. Green and Brock are quick to point out that there is no direct empirical evidence that proves artistry effects transportation. However the have observed striking differences when viewers were discussing transportation based upon texts with varying degrees of artistry.

There is no doubt that Chipotle spared no expense when crafting the Scarecrow video. The expensive animation is a pleasure to watch and taps into other famous works such as The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The somewhat haunting recording of Pure Imagination by Fiona Apple was commissioned just for the video and helps to emotionally land the story’s message.

Film vs. Text

The final postulate discussed on the Transportation-Imagery Model revolves around the medium in which the narrative is delivered. Chipotle chose to tell their story using a website, video animation and a game. Film may not transport viewers as readily as reading or text. Because readers have the ability to self-pace themselves and thereby take more time to create their own images, reading is more likely to instigate transportation (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002). However, Gerrig and Prentice have suggested that participatory responses are more often evoked by film. Participatory responses are defined as “thoughts about characters, expressions of preferences about events, or reflections on the broader implications of the story” (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002, P. 330). These participatory responses contribute to attitude change and involve behavioral commitment with corresponding impact on beliefs (Green, M.C., & Brock, T. C., 2002, p. 330). So by choosing film as the medium to tell this story, Chipotle gained more control over audience participation and imagery but still encouraged attitudinal change in the viewer.

In Their Own Words

Chipotle had many of the pieces in place to make this an effective transmedia experience but they stopped short of making something that could truly transport the viewer. If they had incorporated a more complex narrative and added unique story elements in each medium recruited to distribute the campaign message, they may have had better results. There has been quite a bit of backlash from the food industry and from animal rights activists arguing that Scarecrow campaign was misleading. On a recent episode of Melissa Harris Perry, Chipotle CMO, Mark crumpacker had this to say:

“It is an animated video about robotic crows and scarecrows, so it’s not meant to be literally interpreted. But of course, most of the things that we do in this regard, it’s the part of our marketing that is trying to get people to think a little bit more about where there food comes from. When we do these type of things it does upset some aspects of industrial agriculture and it’s not as if we’re really saying there’s good farmers and bad farmers, we’re just simply saying that there’s good ways perhaps and bad ways of producing food some that are more sustainable than others. We as Chipotle have pretty strong opinion about what the more sustainable ways are.”

“Once we put ourselves out there with the kind of marketing that we use, we are up for tons of criticism. Our effort is to be as transparent as absolutely possible with where everything comes from. So that if anybody were to discover anything about Chipotle, there would be nothing there to be really discover because we’ve been forthcoming. We are far less than perfect, we have a long way to go with all of our ingredients in terms of making them better. I mean just our quest now to source only non-gmo ingredients is going to take us awhile. It’s there everywhere. We’re not saying were perfect, we’re on this journey and we would love to have more people on this journey with us.”

No, the campaign may not have been meant to be ‘literally’ interpreted but Chipotle was banking on the fact that THEIR version of this story would be easier to digest when wrapped in the cloak of a persuasive narrative.

References:

Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2002). In the Mind’s Eye: Transportation-Imagery Model of Narrative Persuasion. In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange & T. C. Brock (Eds.), Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations (pp. 315-342). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Melissa Harris Perry Show – October 20, 2013 – Video Clip: http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry