This week Chipotle announced that it has created a four-part comedy TV series that will launch on Hulu and Hulu Plus in February. CR gets the low down about the project from director Tim Piper and exec producer Daniel Rosenberg.
The series, titled Farmed and Dangerous, starts on February 17 and stars Ray Wise, of Twin Peaks and Mad Men fame. Like Chipotle’s previous short films Back To The Start and The Scarecrow, the aim of the series is to entertain audiences and in turn raise debate about industrial farming practices (while emphasising Chipotle’s commitment to sustainable farming). Wise plays Buck Marshall, a cartoon-like evil corporate figure who represents the Industrial Food Image Bureau, a department devoted to presenting the industrial agriculture business in terms that are palatable to the public. A trailer for the series is shown below.
Piper and Rosenberg, who work out of New York-based studio Piro, first became involved in the project a couple of years ago, when Chipotle made contact after seeing some of Piper’s previous work, which includes the hugely successful Dove Evolution film and the web series The Palace of Light for Post Shredded Wheat.
“Chipotle were just finishing Back To The Start and said they wanted to try a longer form of story based on their ‘food with integrity’ mantra,” explains Piper. “Perhaps live action, scripted, in a similar tone to what I’d done for Shredded Wheat. They loved the idea of comedy but weren’t sure if it was feasible given the seriousness of the subject matter. We asked them who the ‘villains’ and ‘heroes’ were in their world, and the comedy soon became apparent – it was all about the villains.”
Buck Marshall, a larger-than-life figure, was born out of this observation. In the trailer, he is shown in damage control mode after a security video from fictional industrial giant Animoil goes viral. The film shows a cow blowing up after being fed a new petroleum-based animal feed called PetroPellet.
Despite devising and funding the project, any mention of Chipotle is conspicuously absent from the finished series. “Chipotle specifically asked not to have a presence,” says Piper. “They wanted the show to be as entertaining as possible without chest-beating their own achievements and beliefs. The marketing strategy behind doing the show is to let people know Chipotle made it (with PR). They want to entertain people, not disrupt their leisure with obnoxious bragging advertisements.”
While the tone of the brand’s previous animated shorts has been earnest and emotional, with this series Chipotle is clearly aiming for out-and-out comedy. Alongside the trailer, there are also a number of other films that have been released on YouTube, which introduce the characters in more detail. In one, below, Marshall is even shown taking apart the Scarecrow short.
The approach here may seem very different, yet Piper feels it complements the brand’s earlier films. “They create these beautiful animated shorts, which are emotional and ultimately inspiring, and then manage to convey the same message with live action comedy,” he says. “Because they stick to high production values and high creative integrity for both, it seems to work.”
The term ‘branded content’ has been bandied around adland for years now, but there have been few projects that have really managed to pull off the delicate balance between creating something entertaining that also makes sense for a brand. From the trailer, this series looks promising, and it is clear that the team at Piro was fully aware of the dangers that can befall this kind of project.
“When brands overextend into the story, it is a let down for everyone,” says Rosenberg. “But when they inspire storytelling everyone appreciates it.
“In truth, advertising creative is typically quite different from storytelling creative,” he continues. “It’s a different creative muscle. While ads usually focus on a single, central proposition, stories focus on broader elements like character arcs, turning points and conflict to propel action and move the story forward. Chipotle’s internal creatives collaborated with Piro and TV and film writers in writers’ rooms to create the right balance between message and entertainment. Entertainment quality was the final measure of what stayed or went, but brand strategy, values and messaging were always at the forefront.”
Farmed and Dangerous begins on Hulu and Hulu Plus on February 17. To watch the trailer and teasers from the series, visit the Farmed and Dangerous YouTube page here. More info on Piro is at pirovision.com.