What I Learned from Chipotle at Outside Lands

Aug 27, 2012 3:00 PM ET

Volunteering Is CSR

Mmm, burritos. That’s what most people think about when you bring up Chipotle. On this blog, however, it makes sense that our first thought would be about the fast food chain’s very public sustainability practices.

Over the past year these policies, and the company along with them, have been thrown into the spotlight as an example to follow. There was the cool animated PSA with Willie Nelson, Chipotle’s appearance at Sustainable Brands, and controversy over the Fair Food Agreement.

I recently ran into Chipotle the brand at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco earlier this month. Interestingly, Chipotle was not a food vendor – all of those were local Bay Area restaurants. But Chipotle managed to have a great presence in the Eco Lands area, and they reminded me of some great cause marketing best practices while they were at it:


One of the best ways to grab consumer attention is to provide a fun, branded experience. At the festival Chipotle set up several iPad stations with a new game they’ve just developed. Players use a basic knowledge of mechanics – or trial and error – to guide a pig out of a factory farm pen and to freedom, avoiding obstacles like needles, vets with antibiotics and groups of other crazed pigs.

It was fun, it was heartwrenching and it was incredibly informative. And in the end, we all got coupons for free burritos from Chipotle, where they don’t use pigs from factory farms. (I asked about the app, and they said it was still being tweaked but would probably be released for public download pretty soon.)

Telling the Story

Many companies are worried about how “bragging” about their CSR practices will affect their brand. But as Carol Cone emphasized in her keynote talk at the 2012 VolunteerMatch Client Summit, communicating your CSR story is now an imperative.

“Food with Integrity” was not always a part of Chipotle’s communications strategy. However, when they noticed a great willingness in their consumers to learn about food sourcing issues, they realized what a great opportunity it was to educate and market at the same time – the essence of cause marketing.

Targeting the Right Audience

Outside Lands was a perfect place for Chipotle to go all out with their cause marketing. First of all, a huge majority of the attendees were young Millennials, and according to studies (and this cool infographic,) Millennials care more than other generations about where food comes from and how sustainable it is.

Second, being in the Bay Area to talk about sustainable food is like being in a middle school to talk about boy bands – everyone is going to drop whatever they’re doing to listen to you. Chipotle is currently expanding in the Bay Area, and a presence at a major festival like Outside Lands is a great way to spread the word.

Finally, Outside Lands is more than just a music festival – it’s a music, food, wine, beer and art festival. In other words, it is seriously crunchy. Many people attending the festival were probably those who would normally turn their noses up at Chipotle and brush them off as another greenwashing fast food chain. This was a great opportunity for the brand to enlighten these people about their concrete efforts.

Whatever your current opinion is about their sustainability practices, I was impressed by Chipotle at Outside Lands – and not just because of the coupons for free burritos.