Chipotle is hoping to promote “regulation through comedy.” It will release “Farmed and Dangerous,” a four-part comedy series on Hulu that takes a satirical look at industrial-scale farming. There is no reference to Chipotle in the episodes, although the protagonist is named Chip. The series “hopes to promote the company’s concerns about sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals used for meat.” Chipotle executives say that this series is not about “product integration,” but “values integration,” as Chipotle’s slogan is “Food With Integrity.”
The New York Times quotes Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, who drew a comparison to piano makers decades ago who encouraged families to build music rooms. “The best way to sell something would be to create a kind of buzz that would naturally lead to people to buy your product,” Mr. Miller said.
This looks like a potentially great example of a values-based approach to marketing. Sociologists like to talk about “plausibility structures,” which are the socio-cultural contexts within which certain meanings make sense. For instance, growing up in a family with strong moral values renders concepts like “ethics” and “doing the right thing” plausible, as opposed to insubstantial. Chipotle is creating a “plausibility structure” in which consumers find it plausible to make food choices based on sustainable values. They are interested in generating waves beyond their products—of course, we say this with the hope that this is a genuine, and not merely an instrumental, endeavor.