Monday, May 25, 2009

Brand loyalty and Chipotle

A campaign of resistance has been launched against the new ads and menu items from Chipotle by the folks at I quite liked the old ads as well - they were distinctive and fun and played a role in making the brand enjoyable for me.

At the same time, it is clear to me that chipotle needs to do something as it has passed its initial phase of hipness and rapid growth and entered into a more mature phase of business life. Starbuck's is facing much the same challenge at the moment as well. When Chipotle came to the strip mall by the University of Maryland's College Park campus when I was teaching there, it had lines out the door at lunchtime every single weekday that classes were in session for over a year. Now, partly this reflects the fact that the lunch options within walking distance of campus in College Park kinda suck. But there is more than that. The new Chipotle in Ann Arbor, amazingly the first within walking distance of central campus, never has more than four of five people in line when I go there to get lunch. There are people in the restaurant but I have never seen it particularly crowded.

I think the current Chipotle response to both changing economic circumstances and a new stage of the business life cycle is partly right and partly wrong. Introducing less expensive menu items makes sense during a recession and adding to the menu as a way of generating fresh interest makes sense more generally (though part of Chipotle's charm is its very simple menu). Abandoning the attitude that animated the earlier ad campaigns and helped to define and popularize the brand does not.