Burritos and your Brain: a Neuromarketing Evaluation of Chipotle’s New Marketing Campaign

A little over a month ago I was driving down I-55 heading back home after a meeting in downtown Chicago when I saw something that almost caused me to crash my car.  I saw a billboard that was red in color and featured tacos as its centerpiece. As I got closer to the billboard I realized that it was Chipotle’s new marketing campaign. I was heart broken, I was devastated, and most of all I was confused.  Why had Chipotle done away with their highly successful and recognizable marketing campaign for this red colored disaster?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

I’ll start by saying that I have a profound respect for all things Chipotle. Aside from working with them on a national level for their in-store operations I had extensively researched Chipotle for my marketing classes in college. I love Chipotle from their delicious burritos all the way to their unique marketing style. I was quick to notice the change in their advertisements, but what I had also noticed is that the people around me noticed the change as well, and they weren’t too happy about it.

So Simple it’s Genius

Chipotle does not advertise in mainstream media. They do not run nationally televised commercials and they reluctantly dabble in radio spots. They don’t have to because Chipotle does hundreds of millions dollar in business each year without foolishly wasting money on mainstream media advertising. Chipotle’s marketing is so simple it is genius. They rely on word of mouth, free burritos, and billboard advertisements that truly stand out.

Chipotle Ad

These billboards stand out because they are salient from most marketing advertisements that you see today. We are visually over stimulated with colors, images, and a barrage of designs. Chipotle’s answer to advertisement overload was to produce a simplistic style of marketing for their ads, and it worked. There is barely anything to this ad. You have a witty phrase written in “Confidential” font, a picture of a burrito and the Chipotle logo. William Epsy, Creative Director for Chipotle, said it best, “In a world of advertising, who wants to read more? Simplicity is they key.”

Burritos on the Brain

Neuromarketing studies of branding have shown that the most powerful aspects of advertisements aren’t logos as previously thought, but rather they are the environmental design aspects of an ad. That is to say people respond more favorably to consistent design than a Logo. For example when I showed people just the confidential type font and asked them what it reminded them of over 85% said Chipotle. That was just the font. When I showed them a picture of the foil wrapped Burrito an even greater percentage knew it was synonymous with Chipotle.

Chitpotle Font

The truth is that Chipotle’s Marketing is so strong and recognizable they could completely remove their Logo from their advertisements and people would still know its Chipotle. Marin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, calls this marketing phenomenon “Breakable” meaning that if I were to take a Chipotle billboard and break it into pieces you could look at the pieces and still recognize it as Chipotle. That’s some pretty strong marketing. The interesting thing is that Chipotle has been tinkering with their logo over time (you probably didn’t even notice), and they’ve been able to get away with it because their marketing design hasn’t changed that much, until now.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that recognizalby Buberry.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that is recognizably Buberry.

Comparing Marketing Ads

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Here is a side by side comparison of Chipotle’s advertisements. The one of the left holds a heavy neuromarketing presence in your brain: The recognizable font, the focus on Chipotle’s core product – the burrito, and the stand out simplicity. The advertisement on the left features tacos – something that Chipotle offers but not its specialty. The font is boring and non-recognizable because hundreds of companies use that font in their advertising and the same can be said for the deep red color and text bubble design.  Although both adds are emotionally appealing because of the witty phrase content the traditional marketing ad is just designed better to stick.

Back to Good

Three weeks after I had first spotted the new Chipotle advertisement on I-55 it was gone. In its place was Chipotle’s traditional marketing advertisement that we all know and love. I guess Chipotle was wise to the fact people weren’t too happy with the change. I did notice that the traditional billboard featured a new Chipotle logo, but I was okay with that because the design was the same as in the past. A nearly perfect marketing campaign was restored to its former glory. Our brains love consistency and recognition. Chipotle’s traditional marketing has both.

As marketers we are highly creative and sometimes we think we need change when we actually do not. This was a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, in this failed attempt at change we were able to discover that you can change and evolve a logo of a successful brand so long as you don’t overhaul the design of the marketing itself. Neuromarketing was right this time around in pointing out that our perception is keener to consistent marketing design rather than a single logo.

Good luck Chipotle and keep up the great work!

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2 thoughts on “Burritos and your Brain: a Neuromarketing Evaluation of Chipotle’s New Marketing Campaign

  1. Thanks for a really informative analysis and case study of the elements of Chipotle’s branding.

    When I think of neuromarketing, I think of brain scans to find out exactly what area of the brain has been activated, when the brain responds, etc. I guess, when you come down to it, because our brains process external stimuli, everything is neuromarketing, hmm?

  2. Thank you for this article! I really wanted to know what that font was because I have been searching around for it and I could not find it. Thanks again! Besides that, the article was great, I love reading about Chipotle’s history. Chipotle is tied at 1st place on my favorite companies list, it is tied with Apple Inc.
    From,
    Sam

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