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When Things Hit the Fan, Great Ads can Clean up the Mess

Posted by Angela Jeffrey on Nov 2, 2021 12:10:40 PM

We all know Chipotle fell from grace in 2015 with an e-coli scandal that cost them billions of dollars over many years.  Today, they are more successful than ever.  Many stories have been written about Chipotle's multi-pronged strategy to recover, one of which was its dramatically improved ad creative and messaging. ABX tested 100's of Chipotle ads from 2015 through YTD and found powerful correlations to revenue.  The story below is a teaser of those findings, which will be presented in full to students at Pennsylvania State University soon.   


Funny illustratio of sh*t hitting the fanIn December of 2015, it all hit the fan when an E. coli and Norovirus outbreak sickened 192 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston.  Steve Ells, Founder of Chipotle, quickly wrote a letter of apology, a "Comprehensive Food Safety Plan," that ran as a paid ad in 61 newspapers across the country. 

The letter was copy-tested by ABX and showed low scores across nearly all KPIs including a 73 for Message, 196 for "Dislike" and -46 in "Intent to Recommend."  Viewers did have  a better opinion of Chipotle after viewing the ad likely appreciating Steve Ells' effort.  (The ABX Index is based on "100" being "Effective" or "Average.") ABX Index scores for Chipotle letter adAs the massive new marketing campaign rolled out, great ads gradually outpaced poor ads and peaked in 2020.  Ads tested by the ABX syndicated Global Creative Benchmarking service included all media types. Based on the ABX consistent method of measuring all mediums, Chipotle could have seen which ads were or weren't working in each medium, earlier. 

But the long-term campaign DID work and BOOM!  Look how closely the ABX Index scores correlated to Revenues, meaning Chipotle's improved ads from 2016 to 2020 contributed greatly to the turn-around. combinedAll media chart

The following illustrates one ad per year (good and bad) with KPI Index scores so you can see the radical changes made to clarify the purity of Chipotle's entire operation.  (Revenue source: Macrotrends)

2016 Average ABX Index: 96

As if nothing had happened, Chipotle continued to run some promotional ads in 2016 that scored poorly, 2016 Chipotle digital adsuch as this digital ad.  But Brand Awareness was good at 106, so people appeared to be on the alert for messages from Chipotle.

2016 Chipotle ad scores

2017 Average ABX Index: 102

Chipotle rolled out new ads focusing on the "realness'" of its ingredients featuring fresh, high-quality food.  Some were great ads, some not so much. The ad below is marvelously creative and one of my favorites, but it was the lowest-scoring ad of the year due in part to lack of clear Messaging. More ads along this theme followed and have scored much better.  Other Therapist shot (Click on ad to view)Therapist scores

2018 Average ABX Index:  108

A completely new "For Real" campaign launched in September of the year and got better and better, as illustrated by one of its great ads below.  But Chipotle still wasn't clearly articulating the safety message.  Rather, the focus remained on food quality.2017 Chipotle For Real ad2018 scores For Real Ad

2019 Average ABX Index: 111

Finally, early in 2019,  Chipotle launched a  "Behind the Foil" campaign with "the most intimate look into the company's operations in it's 25-year history." Using documentary-style digital and TV spots 2018 Chipotle Carne Asada ad to reveal its kitchens, equipment, prep routings, sourcing and more. These new great ads had huge scores on KPIs including the Gender Equality Index (GEI).2019 Carne Asada ad scores

2020 Average ABX Index: 121

The campaign soared, culminating in truly great ads, one of which reached an ABX Index score of 141, putting it in2020 Chipotle's Best Ad yet the top 5% of all 250,000 ads tested by ABX throughout all industries and in 14 countries.2020 Chipotle's Best Ad Yet Scores

2021 Average ABX Index YTD: 116

So far, Chipotle's 2016 average Index has declined five points, but great ads scoring in the 120-135 range abound.  Huge growth in Reputation and Intent to Purchase KPIs knock this story out of the park.Chart showing Chipotle ad scores for Reputation over 6 yearsChart showing ad scores for Purchase Intent over six years

To learn more about the Chipotle case study, or learn about the accuracy of ABX advertising measurement across all media types, all industries and all competitors globally, call us at 347-443-8869 or click Contact us here. 

Topics: Restaurants, Media, Integrated Marketing, Advertising Effectiveness, Great Ads

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