Based on the ad hoc advice we got, Chipotle may have a tough time convincing wary customers to return.
The Mexican restaurant chain – which built its fast casual brand on quality, locally sourced food – faces the challenge of wooing back customers after at least three separate food safety incidents across the country. One source reported Chipotle’s revenues – despite reopening its previously closed stores – dipped 30 percent in December.
We asked people to pretend to be the chain’s marketer and meet what we called the #ChipotleMarketing Challenge,” an open-ended strategy session about how you would repair the damage. Here’s a sampling of comments, without attribution, that we received:
“I never went back to Sizzler or Jack in the Box after their troubles.”
“They’ve given an edible plant a bad name. I guess they could work on another one.”
“No kidding! Been wondering how they will rebuild the Grand Canyon of public mistrust."
“Chipotle = Corvair. It will be over very soon.”
One commenter threw up his hands and said the best thing Chipotle’s marketing director could do is look for a new job.
Not everyone was fatalistic, though.
“Challenging situation, but Chipotle is not Enron.”
“Try explaining what happened and how it’s been fixed. How about treating customers like intelligent beings. Then suck it up and take a hit on profits for a little while trust is rebuilt.”
“Rename and rebrand. Not that hard if you do it the right way. But you can’t polish a turd.”
“They could start by foregoing all the healthy positioning of food that isn’t healthy. Hello to the 1,200-calorie burrito.”
“Maybe divide local sources of food into distinct local brands featuring regional specialties based in part on what is in season locally. Emphasize freshness and a lower carbon footprint from transportation.”
“Food safety is obviously essential. Overhaul safety procedures in a transparent way. Open up the facilities with web cams and implement a pioneering food handling effort.”
“Have a long view and don’t attempt to rush to a quick fix (like losing all brand equity). Execute. Execute. Execute. This is a process issue and can only be fixed through years of excellent in process improvement and execution.”
"I believe in second chances. What about a 'Great Reopening' campaign. A day of free samples of food? Coupons and food prize give-aways. Everyone likes free stuff. Have each location give away one free meal an hour. Must make a purchase to qualify for the hourly drawing. Have one big grand prize at the end of the day. Good luck!"
There were also some more entertaining suggestions, like following the example of “The Worst Hotel in the World,” where you warn patrons up front. Here are some more quirky marketing ideas.
“Hire Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog, who have great chemistry on her talk show, for a series of cute ads.”
"Have Morgan Spurlock (a documentary filmmaker and humorist known for producing “Super Size Me”) eat at Chipotle for 30 days, then follow him with cameras to see what happens. The toilet experience might be too graphic.”
On the other hand, maybe Chipotle doesn’t need a big marketing campaign to restore its image after all, which one commenter pointed out. “A large number of their customer base are high school students who don’t care and have continued to eat there three or four times a week through all this."