Home » Chipotle is “Cultivating Thought” Through Visual Storytelling

Chipotle is “Cultivating Thought” Through Visual Storytelling

by | Apr 17, 2015

By Leah Levendusky, Bates Creative

Chipotle has been known to execute some fun and unique branding campaigns in the past, for example the time when they asked customers to tweet a Chipotle Love Haiku or when they had semi-coherent ramblings plastered on their cups. Well now, Chipotle has asked 20 literary “geniuses” to write an original story to be published on Chipotle’s brown bags and other packaging. The campaign is called the “Cultivating Thought” Author Series and each story is designed to be a two-minute reading (which is almost as long as it takes our PM Matt to eat a burrito, or two).

This modern take on the back of a cereal box helps Chipotle use stories, not necessarily to gain new customers, but to enrich the brand experience for current customers and connect with them in a new way. As fellow storytellers, we understand first-hand the value and impact that visual storytelling can have on brands and their engagement with customers. Here’s our take on how Chipotle has mastered the art of visual storytelling.

Chipotle’s recipe for a perfect storytelling campaign:

1. Keep Your Message Consistent with Your Company’s Overarching Mission

As Danielle Winslow, a Chipotle spokeswoman, explains, “As part of our effort to change the way people think about and eat fast food, we often produce programs that are designed to make people more curious about their food and where it comes from. Here, we’ve simply extended that beyond food and wanted to produce content that would entertain and make people think about things that they might not have thought about before.”

Each essay varies on topics and is written by authors including Toni Morrison, Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari and Julia Alvarez. Each essay follows the format of a two-minute reading and the stories take you on a thought-provoking and winding road. Some are more light-hearted like one on how to make the perfect soda drink, while others go deeper like one that discusses the meaning of life.

Customers (including Baters) already love Chipotle for its high-quality, fresh food experiences, so by incorporating these unique philosophical writings from profound writers (“profound” is relative), Chipotle can communicate to its consumers that they care about the same things its customers do. As David Ogilvy said, A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. Chipotle’s tactical marketing plan produces more passionate and dedicated Chipotle fans, without ever saying, “Buy Chipotle.”

2. Disposable Art is Still Art

There’s no doubt that people love using Sharpies to doodle and jot down quick notes on brown paper bags  – but when Chipotle does it, it’s handcrafted art. Chipotle understands the importance of consistent branding and typography, so every story in the “Cultivating Thought” series gets a Sharpie masterpiece to accompany it. The illustrations enhance the story and elevate the campaign because it evokes customers’ curiosity. Good design makes you take a second look and motivates customers to take those two minutes to read the story.

As one of Bates Creative’s designers, Cecile Jordan, said, “Chipotle offers a raw, organic feel in every aspect of their brand. Not only do they use farm-grown products for their food, but they also emphasize their commitment to the environment by incorporating raw materials into their packaging, collateral, and environmental design. The combination of hand-drawn typographic elements and compelling copywriting helps to engage their ever-growing audience. It also enforces the idea that this brand is willing to take the time to deliver a quality product.”

While the bags and cups will most likely be thrown away (but, hopefully recycled), it’s not a wasted effort to make even the most mundane and ordinary packaging collateral part of your story. This campaign has helped Chipotle further differentiate themselves from other brands by finding a creative purpose for almost everything.

3. Make it Personal

Chipotle obviously understands and connects with its target audience as evidenced by the number of customers reading the bags in front of them instead of their smartphones. Each story is written as if the ramblings were ripped out of the authors’ journals. The stories are honest, reflective and personal. They use the first person “I.” The details are intricate and descriptive. The stories sound like they’re being shared with a close friend instead of millions of strangers. It helps the author make a connection with the reader/eater, which gives the story and the campaign a larger impact. The campaign has proven successful because the authors are providing relevant and thought provoking pieces that Chipotle fans around the world can relate to.

Chipotle has once again proved to Bates Creative that they know how to do visual storytelling right. The brand’s campaigns are always thoughtful, insightful and quirky and align seamlessly with the company’s carefully crafted brand identity. Chipotle has a clearly defined mission and they don’t deviate from its message. They own their unique style and use design to accent their message without clouding the readability or understanding. And as always, they make it personal by connecting and engaging with its customers in new ingenious ways. We commend Chipotle for thinking outside of the wrapper and continually finding creative ways to reach its target in fresh and fun ways.


Do you agree that Chipotle has mastered the art of visual storytelling? Are you a fan of the Cultivating Thought campaign?

Share your favorite story from the “Cultivating Thought” series with us on Twitter or Facebook! Use #CultivatingBates with a photo of your favorite Chipotle story.

We can’t wait to see your pictures!

About the Author

Bates Creative

Beyond Definition is a brand experience and marketing agency in the Washington, D.C. metro that thrives on transforming strategic and creative challenges into positive, branded results. We believe that immersive customer experiences are fueled by the visual and visceral nature of designers, developers, strategists and visionaries who believe in the art of an idea. With our branded methodology, Artistic Intelligence, we blur the lines between business-minded logic and thought-provoking design to create meaningful solutions for all clients ranging from big dogs to new ventures.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Brand Creep

Total Immersion



Recent Comments