Chipotle’s latest marketing strategy to win back customers certainly got the burrito chain plenty of attention, but that doesn’t mean it was good publicity.
The fast-casual restaurant chain, which has had a rough year of declining sales following a string of high-profile food safety issues, tweeted out a message on Tuesday that was mostly chided as a lame attempt at courting millennials, even if it did manage to go viral. Yesterday afternoon, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Twitter account posed its more than 800,000 followers the seemingly innocuous question, “How many burritos?” But the post included a multiple-choice poll with two symbolic numerical options: a sexual reference (“69”) and a drug reference (“420,” which refers to the unofficial holiday celebrated by marijuana smokers on April 20).
More than 82,000 people had voted in the poll by early Wednesday morning while the post had been retweeted 6,000 times and “liked” 3,800 times. Still, the tweet also made Chipotle the butt of more than a few jokes, with the apparent attempt to endear the brand to young diners seen as juvenile at best, and offensive at worst. The first user to respond to the tweet advised Chipotle “you gotta chill,” while other responders disapproved of the tweet, with one likening the joke to “someone’s Dad trying to be cool.”
Chipotle has been hit hard by food safety concerns stemming from a string of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks, and the chain has gone out of its way to win back customers, with free burritos, happy hour alcohol specials, and a customer rewards program. But those attempts have not kept theChipotle’s comparable restaurant sales from dropping more than 26% in the first half of 2016, while the uptick in promotions has hurt profit margins.
Chipotle’s share price had dropped nearly 15% from the start of 2016 before receiving a bump from Tuesday’s news that activist investor Bill Ackman had taken a sizable stake and will hold discussions with executives related to governance and financial matters, as well Chipotle’s strategic plans. Ackman thinks shares are undervalued, which means he could push for major shakeups to the company’s management and its business model.