Chipotle Mexican Grill is launching a video series that intends to teach young children about eating healthy foods, as the restaurant chain returns to more content-driven marketing and away from the response to its prolonged food-safety crisis.
On Wednesday, Chipotle (CMG) announced the debut of a six-episode show called “RAD Lands” that will be available exclusively on iTunes for $4.99 in the U.S. and Canada. The series, which was developed in partnership with CAA Marketing and the producers of the TV series “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” wants to teach kids between the ages of 7 and 10 about where their food comes from and how it is prepared. It features animation, professional chefs like Amanda Freitag and “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio, and real kids participating in rapid cooking contests or talking about their experience of working on a farm.
“It has been part of our brand for a while to put our values out there in ways we hope will make people care more about where their food comes from,” Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer, told Fortune in an interview. “That is a benefit for us because if you are trying to eat better food, you’ll probably end up at Chipotle.”
The series (the tone of the preview episode Fortune saw felt very Gen Z) was scheduled to air roughly a year ago. But the project was temporarily shelved as Chipotle’s management focused attention on shaking off an E. Coli outbreak that hit several states and called into question the brand’s promise of serving fresher and healthier foods than rivals like McDonald’s (MCD). That crisis, which started in the fall of 2015, led Chipotle to report a 13% drop in revenue and the first annual sales decline since going public over a decade ago.
Since then, management has worked to re-establish the brand’s image in consumers’ minds. It launched a rewards program and numerous promotions to help bolster lagging traffic. Earlier this year, it vowed to launch a major ad campaign that will debut in April—the largest the company will have ever undertaken. That campaign will be a way for Chipotle to try to lure back lapsed customers and also court new ones.
But Crumpacker explained to Fortune that “RAD Lands” is also important, even though the Chipotle brand won’t appear in any of the episodes. “This content reinforces ideas about the brand and makes [existing customers] more loyal,” Crumpacker said. “It doesn’t mean that non-customers don’t see those videos. But they speak to people that have a pre-existing relationship with Chipotle.”
As a marketer, creative-focused Crumpacker and his marketing team at Chipotle has historically focused on more non-traditional marketing to make the restaurant chain alluring. The company has produced animated films like 2013’s “The Scarecrow,” which took a dystopian view of how food is poorly processed by large restaurant companies (and came with an app-based game) and 2011’s “Back to the Start,” which took aim at highly industrialized food manufacturing. Three years ago, Chipotle debuted a millennial-focused TV series on Hulu that talked about the importance of food safety (before Chipotle’s own woes on that matter) and sustainable farming.
Part of why Chipotle does this type of marketing, Crumpacker explains, is because the company doesn’t have the major budget to compete with fast-food giants that spend millions to promote their quick-rotating limited-time offer menu additions. While Chipotle is planning to spend 3% of revenue on marketing this year, it still is dwarfed by those bigger peers. Non-traditional marketing can also create a halo around the brand behind that form of communication. “There is a resistance to advertising,” Crumpacker said. “This content gives you another way to engage with people.”
During the food safety crisis, Chipotle mostly stopped releasing this type of non-traditional market and since then, other major consumer-product companies like Nike (NKE) and Starbucks (SBUX) have launched their own web series. The only exception was last year’s film “A Love Story,” which accompanied the debut of the company’s rewards program and thus had a more direct, strategic business goal of winning back lapsed customers.
I asked Crumpacker why Chipotle felt it was now good timing to launch a new television series at a time when there are still questions about the health of the brand. This is what he had to say: “There are people who won’t be satisfied until they see ads with a promotion for a 99-cent item because that’s what this industry is built on,” he explained. “But this is an element of our marketing program that is about building trust back and not about getting people to buy things.”
Crumpacker added that while Chipotle spent a decade building the company’s restaurant brand around the idea that it was challenging an established food system, that narrative has been replaced by food safety. The goal of April’s ad campaign—along with non-traditional programs like “RAD Lands”—is to help change the story around Chipotle.
“We were on our heels last year but this is about us getting back to the marketing we know works and it is an important part of changing the narrative,” Crumpacker said.