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Chipotle Goes Long on Long-Form Propaganda
By: Ron Romanik
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The fourth and final episode of the Chipotle-produced miniseries “Farmed and Dangerous” posted on Hulu.com this morning. It’s a lot to ask an audience to wait for punch lines of satirical jokes drawn out over four weeks and an hour-and-a-half of buildup.

While some are worth the payoff, some maybe fall a little short. But if you only watch the final episode, you probably get the premise, the moral landscape, and the punch lines.

The extra time did give the producers time to be pedantic and point out all the bad ways Big Oil, Big Ag, and Big Industry are corrupting our society. And PR, for that matter. In the final episode, the villain Buck Marshall quips: “McDonald’s doesn’t own Chipotle, that’s just a rumor I started.” (Fact checker: McDonald’s was a major investor from 1998 to 2006.)

The fill-in time supplies propaganda (the word is not only negative) about the main sustainability topics of the day, from the negative effects of GMOs to the true costs of food products on retail shelves. The drama hinges on the female lead, Sophia, having a conscience and choosing sustainable farming over her father’s PR firm promoting Animoil, the offspring of the marriage between Big Ag and Big Oil.

Chipotle is trying to springboard off the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” A New Yorker article last month puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.”

Plot twists are few once the premise is set, but there are a couple of choice-cut ones at the end that are worth a chuckle. Whether the new form has legs is reliant on the density of the information, the level of the subversiveness, and, of course, whether it’s actually entertaining. This experiment erred on length, discussion, and detail to appeal to very wide audience. It was a long way to go, but not as long as the journey back to more sustainable farming practices.

The producers tipped their hand for a joke, making the point that all media is, after all, propaganda, when one flack suggests: “What if we produce a satire that pulls back the curtain on the disturbing world of sustainable farming?” Satirizing the satirists is an even trickier proposition, but the proposition hits close to home.

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About the Author
Ron Romanik is principal of Romanik Communications, a brand consultancy outside Philadelphia founded with a mantra of “Authentic Stories. Resonant Tones. Sustainable Brands.”
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