Sorry, we can’t hear you
On February 12, 2012, the burrito chain Chipotle made international news by airing its first national TV ad.
It ran only once, on the Sunday-evening broadcast of the Grammy awards.
In just about any other circumstances, a company’s first TV commercial would hardly merit a news story. This was different. The Chipotle ad generated headlines all over the country even before its television debut.
Any fan of the hit TV series “Mad Men” will appreciate why this is an instance of man-bites-dog news. Back in the 1960s, Don Draper (the iconic ad agency director in MM) and his real-life Madison Avenue ilk were basically in the business of shouting.
Flash forward 50 years for a lesson for medical practices on how a branded whisper beats shouting every time.
The fast-food industry spends more than $4 billion each year on advertising, most of it on TV. On television alone the average American child sees 15 food commercials every day, or approximately 5,500 commercials a year, according to Yale’s Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity.
Most TV commercials are 30 seconds long. The Chipotle TV spot was 2 minutes, 20 seconds – about five times longer.
Television’s typical advertising fare features fast-moving, close-up shots of sizzling burgers or ribs or chicken fried in only-the-Lord-knows-what. Instead, the Chipotle piece was an animation with a soundtrack, as country music legend Willie Nelson performed his rendition of “The Scientist,” a tune by the rock band Coldplay.
Most remarkably, the advertiser’s name didn’t appear until 1 minute, 48 seconds into the production. When it finally did edge onto the screen, it was only a tiny logo incorporated almost imperceptibly into the animation. It disappeared 6 seconds later.
A simple message appeared at the conclusion: not “eat at Chipotle” or “our gourmet burritos are on sale this month” or “food with integrity,” the company’s slogan. Rather, the closing message was, “Cultivate a better world,” a plug for Chipotle’s foundation for supporting sustainable agriculture, family farming and culinary education.
It wasn’t even a commercial for Chipotle’s food.
In addition to the single TV airing, Chipotle posted the animation to YouTube. In the first six months afterward, it averaged nearly a million viewings per month.
Willie’s crooning is also available on iTunes, where it has been downloaded so often that it has earned iTunes’ highest popularity rating.
David’s burritos topples Goliath’s burgers
Chipotle operates less than 1,300 stores worldwide, a fraction of the more than 5,600 Taco Bell locations and 23,000-plus Subway sandwich shops. But it’s hardly a struggling dwarf. The company’s sales grew nearly 25 percent in 2011. Online magazine Slate has called Chipotle’s 46-year-old founder, Steve Ells, the Steve Jobs of the restaurant industry.
How do you earn this kind of street cred? How do you go up against a slew of competitors jamming 15 commercials into the average kid’s day? Clearly, uniqueness is your only option.
Chipotle owns a distinctive place in the oh-so-crowded world of fast food (known in the industry as quick-service restaurants, or “fast casual” restaurants). Chipotle has cultivated die-hard customer loyalty for its stated commitment to sustainable agriculture. For example, it buys pork for its burritos from pigs that are raised outside, not in factory buildings, are not given antibiotics and eat a vegetarian diet.
Chipotle’s competitors, however, market the Don Draper way. They shout. They fill the airways with blaring commercials showcasing mouth-watering tacos, burgers and ribs.
The end of shouting
Fifty years ago, when the U.S. population was barely half of today’s census, this approach worked. A marketer could reach about 75 percent of the population just by advertising for a week on a half-hour nightly news program on one of the three national TV networks.
That was then. This is now, with 500-plus channels now on cable TV and somewhere around 300 million websites. The company has made its products such a clear choice that airing just one TV commercial generates hundreds of thousands of YouTube visits each week.
Whereas most big fast-food sellers shout about their wares, Chipotle whispers. And people the world over listen. Why? Chipotle’s messages have meaning to its audience.
Meaning is defined by personal values, needs, wants and/or beliefs and convictions. There’s no shortage of humans with hardfast values and convictions about how food should be grown and prepared.
You’d expect a fast-food chain to be the last to capitalize on those convictions. How utterly distinctive.
There are two lessons here for medical practices. First, in most cases, advertising a practice the traditional way in newspapers or on TV or billboards just won’t get you lot. The marketplace is already too noisy out there for you to be heard above the din of 15 fast-food commercials daily.
Secondly, be unique. Then talk about it, on your website, in your brochures, on your on-hold telephone messages, and at every possible touch point with patients.
Fortunately, almost all practices only have to compete in their city, not nationally. It’s not so hard to be unique amidst a handful or, at most, a few dozen competitors.
Mind you, you can’t be unique by saying you excel in patient care. Every patient expects that. Prove it. Show uniqueness through action, which is measurable.
Examples of actionable uniqueness include:
- Giving patients online access to some of their medical records.
- Guaranteeing on your website that no patient has to wait 15 minutes before seeing a provider.
- Offering free public seminars on conditions your practice treats.
Yep, any and all of these distinctions take time, money and commitment. But only a minority of practices offer them. In most cities, a practice would be unique in its specialty by offering any two.
And what’s the alternative? Going head to head on TV against McDonald’s and Wendy’s? Don’t even try. You’ll strain your voice trying to shout that loud.