Lieberman says views are approaching a billion at this point. Chipotle needed an additional 7,500 cases and 187,500 pounds of avocados to meet the demand. In total, it served more than 420,000 pounds of avocados in a single day and required 18,500 cases—a 68 percent increase from typical usage.
“If you think about something like TikTok,” Lieberman says, “it’s a place for our customers where they’re certainly spending time talking about Chipotle. We wanted to speak to them in their language that they’re using on the platform.”
The #GuacDance activation was actually Chipotle’s second foray into the TikTok challenge space. The brand tried a #ChipotleLidFlip effort in May that asked customers to post videos of themselves flipping Chipotle packaging. It led to 110,000 user-generated video submissions and 104 million video starts in less than a week.
“What we’ve found is that when we meet our customers where they are and we do it in a Chipotle way, then they respond,” Lieberman says. “And we can really break through.”
It’s really about humanizing the brand—an often cliché point, but one that holds significant weight in Chipotle’s case. In February 2018, UBS analyst Dennis Geiger broke down several years’ worth of customer review scores to get a feel for Chipotle’s standing. His findings, along with a downgrade to sell from natural and a target-price cut to $290 from $345, sent Chipotle’s shares tumbling nearly 5 percent to $308.82 on February 1.
Chipotle was trying to flip consumer sentiment through a new national advertising campaign and products, like queso. The efforts weren’t landing, however, with enough force to scrub out sour feelings lingering from the E. coli outbreak that shut down 43 Washington and Oregon locations before erupting into a 14-state crisis and yearlong sales downturn.
Geiger’s data showed that Chipotle’s online scores hovered around 3.80 in March 2010. After analyzing some 230,000 entries, Geiger said, Chipotle witnessed a steady decline through November 2017. There was a brief rebound in March 2016, but the line trended downward soon after. And then a survey of 1,600 customers by UBS noted that 37 percent said they frequent Chipotle less often than they used due to food-safety concerns.
So, where are we today? For starters, Chipotle’s stock traded for $822 by mid-day Thursday.
The conversations center closer to digital breakthroughs, menu innovation, and culture-connected promotions than what happened four years ago, which is a welcomed change.
And that can be credited, in many respects, to Chipotle developing a voice customers can relate to, Lieberman says. Humanizing a brand that had an undeniable trust issue before.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously and that allows us to have a great time with our customers,” she says. “We just talk to them as if they’re a friend of ours.”
Lieberman turns to a September campaign to illustrate this point. Chipotle has long known that its Tabasco bottles suffer from a short shelf life. Not that they go bad, but that customers like to swipe them. Chipotle, which goes through more than 5.5 million bottles annually, even posted before and after shots on Instagram. In the morning, there were bottles galore. By late afternoon, a lone survivor remained.
“Rather than shy away from that and hide the Tabasco bottles behind the counter, we started having fun with it,” Lieberman says.