As it approaches the second anniversaries of the multiple outbreaks that turned into a food safety crisis, Chipotle Mexican Grill  has decided its time to send in the clowns, or at least the comedians.

Chipotle earlier this week announced  the launch of the “As Real as It Gets” advertising campaign created to support the company’s commitment to using only real ingredients. The launch of the campaign follows the recent announcement that Chipotle is the only national restaurant brand without added colors, flavors or preservatives – artificial or natural – in any of the ingredients it uses to prepare its food.

Nervous_15_406x250The new advertising campaign includes a series of videos with funny people Sam Richardson, Jillian Bell and John Mulaney ‘getting real’ as they lounge inside a surprisingly spacious burrito voiced by Jeffrey Tambor. The comedians get real by revealing their fears, desires and secrets inside the burrito.

“In a world full of fakery and half-truths, it’s invigorating to hear a brand tell it like it is,” said Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer for Chipotle. “This campaign challenges the conventions of fast food advertising by being completely real — not only about our food, but about the world we live in — and it does so with an optimism and playful humor that’s very much in line with our brand.”

Developed with Venables Bell & Partners (VB&P),  the advertising campaign is  the company’s first use of national broadcast television as a significant component of an advertising campaign. Last year, Chipotle tested television advertising in some markets, but this campaign represents a broader use of video across broadcast, cable and digital.   (See examples of the ads at: )

Chipotle has not had it easy since it experienced a series of outbreaks of food borne illnesses beginning in mid-2015. In the following year, it saw comparable sales fall by 20 percent or more. Financial analysts are expecting high single digits growth during 2017, but Chipotle’s recovery from the food safety crisis has been a harder climb than most experience.

It was a string of outbreaks that plagued Chipotle at locations throughout the country during the last half of 2015 that caused misfortune for its business and hammered it stock value. The incidents included:

  • Seattle — E. coli O157:H7, July 2015, five sickened people, source unknown;
  • Simi Valley, CA — Norovirus, August 2015, 234 people, source was sick employee;
  • Minnesota — Salmonella Newport, August and September 2015, 64 sick people, source was tomatoes but it is not known at what point in the field-to-fork chain the pathogen was introduced;
  • Nine states — E. coli O26, began October 2015 and declared over on Feb. 1, 55 sickened people, source unknown, states involved are California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and,
  • Three states — E. coli O26, began December 2015, declared over Feb. 1, five sickened people, source unknown, states involved are Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
  • Boston — Norovirus, December 2015, 151 sickened.

The harsh public reaction Chipotle experienced  was seen by some as self-inflected because the company’s “Food with Integrity” motto was just seen as inconsistent with such a  major food safety crisis.

And while a year and half later, growth is returning to Chipotle, market-makers say the chain still needs to be more aggressive. It’s “massive new marketing campaign” featuring the comedians is just that sort of action. “In theory, this will result in people returning in droves to Chipotle’s stores,” wrote Grubb Street’s Clint Rainey.

Chipotle previously  tried giving away 21 million free burritos and a started a rewards program to help get customers back.

The company recently announced that it had rolled out new tortillas — used for their burritos, tacos and chips — that eliminated the use of preservatives and dough conditioners leaving the brand with only 51 real ingredients that are readily available at a farmer’s market or grocery store.

Chipotle opened at a single location  in Denver in 1993 and now operates more than 2,200 restaurants.

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