The latest message from Chipotle Mexican Grill comes in animated form, and it’s a warning: Don’t sell out.
The fast-casual burrito chain on Wednesday unveiled a four-minute short film it is calling “A Love Story,” which depicts two young children operating rival lemonade and orange juice stands. Before the kids know it, competition spirals out of control, resulting in lower quality food ingredients, more menu additions, bigger scale operations, and a ton of highly marketed limited time offerings. By the time they are adults, the food entrepreneurs realize they’ve lost their way.
Chipotle (CMG) is essentially taking a shot at its main fast-food rivals. It wants to send a clear message that the company, unlike McDonald’s (MCD) and Yum Brands’ (YUM) Taco Bell, cares about the quality of food it serves.
Fortune won’t spoil the ending, but you can view the full video below.
The ad is timed to support Chipotle’s summer rewards program, which officially kicked off at the beginning of July as a way to boost flagging traffic. The chain’s sales have been stung by a prolonged E. coli outbreak, which spread across a handful of states and generated major national headlines, putting Chipotle at a big disadvantage as it aims to get diners back in stores. For now, analysts are projecting Chipotle will have a tough 2016. Sales are projected to slide 7% this year, followed by a big 18% rebound in 2017.
“A Love Story” isn’t Chipotle’s first foray into animated film production. The chain generated headlines and positive feedback when it launched a 2013 short film it called “The Scarecrow,” which launched around the time of a Chipotle app-based game. That film, which generated more than 15 million views on YouTube, took a dystopian view of how food is poorly processed by large restaurant corporations. Another film, 2011’s “Back to the Start,” took aim at highly industrialized food manufacturing.
“Chipotle is very different than traditional fast food restaurants, and our marketing reflects those differences,” said Mark Shambura, director of brand marketing, in a statement. The video features a cover of the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 song “I Want it That Way,” covered by Alabama Shakes’ lead singer Brittany Howard and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.
As the Wall Street Journal points out, the ad’s timing is somewhat awkward after a top Chipotle marketing executive, Mark Crumpacker, was arraigned this week after he was indicted on drug charges. Prosecutors have claimed he was one of 18 alleged buyers indicted in what has been described as a $75,000 drug ring. The Journal reports Crumpacker had been steering the company’s communications with diners in the wake of its food-safety woes. He was placed on administrative leave last week.