Now Might Be the Time for Chipotle to Start Working with Creative Agencies Again

By Patrick Coffee 

Chipotle needs a good, thorough rebranding. The chain’s problems clearly can’t be solved by hiring a new crisis communications firm or launching a new social media campaign or hiring some food influencers to bring attention back to the quality of its ingredients.

Beyond the ongoing E. Coli thing, you guys have obviously seen the stories about CMO and former copywriter Mark Crumpacker, who was indicted on cocaine possession charges in a Manhattan drug bust last week and subsequently placed on administrative leave.

A momentarily fascinating follow-up in Bloomberg today reveals that Crumpacker’s coke purchases synced up with his employer’s biggest crisis moments over the past year or so, implying that he was “driven to drugs” by public fallout and falling revenues attached to the bacteria story.

This may or may not be true. But in January of this year, the chain definitely ended its relationship with PR firm Edelman, all but confirming that the world’s biggest reputation shop was not doing enough to repair its reputation. (This was after Edelman won some Cannes Lions for the “Scarecrow” campaign.)

Chipotle hired GSD&M to handle media/strategy in 2014 and then went with Carrot (now owned by Vice) for social media last year. But the company hasn’t had a creative AOR in some time after working with Mother New York, DeVito/Verdi, etc.

The reason given for that decision has been that traditional advertising doesn’t matter so much for a company like Chitpotle, which until recently relied on social media, PR/word of mouth and projects like the “Cultivating Thought” series in which various authors’ work appeared on company cups. It was over advertising, really.

We also hear that the chain may not have been the most pleasant client in history, surprise surprise. But it’s no longer in a position of power as a disruptive market force, and we think now would be a pretty good time for Chipotle to issue an RFP.

There will be budgetary issues, the company has admitted that it “cannot market its way out” of its current struggles, and the “free burrito” extravaganza didn’t quite work. But whenever it does decide to go all-in on the rebound campaign, it will need to have some distinctive and omnipresent work tied to that effort. This is something that PR and media agency partners, with all due respect to them, cannot provide.

Wouldn’t it be in Chipotle’s best interest to hire a new creative agency in an effort to get consumers to stop thinking about cocaine and E. Coli? The goal would be to refocus on one key point: this place still has better food than almost any other massive chain, Mexican or otherwise.

We almost want to believe in Chipotle’s ability to overcome these scandals, and that feels kind of weird.

It worked for Jack in the Box, remember?