Inside Chipotle’s TikTok strategy

On Friday, Chipotle is kicking off its second TikTok “challenge” of the year. The company wants consumers to dance for free guacamole from now until National Avocado Day on July 31, by posting videos of them dancing on the short-form video app under the hashtag #GuacDance. 

The chain was the first restaurant to partner with TikTok in the U.S. earlier this past spring, which led to Chipotle’s highest digital sales day, according to Stephanie Purdue, vp of brand marketing for Chipotle. The chain hosted its first “challenge” on the platform with #ChipotleLidFlip in May. This new “challenge,” which also has paid media dollars behind it, asks Chipotle fans who use TikTok to dance to an internet-famous song by children’s entertainer Dr. Jean about guacamole.

Our digital sales have grown significantly — we’re up 99% versus last year — and they now represent about 18% of our sales,” said Purdue. “Half of our customer base is Gen-Z and millennial, so it’s important for us to show up where they are. We really like being in unexpected and uncluttered spaces, and we felt like TikTok was one of them.” 

In 2018, Chipotle spent $45.8 million in media compared to $43.7 in media in 2017, per Kantar, though the company doesn’t track social spending. While Chipotle’s overall media budget is flat year over year, according to Purdue, the company is “doubling down” on its digital spending. The company declined to share specifics into how much its digital budget has grown.

With the greater emphasis on digital, the company has seen a 300% lift in digital impressions and a 400% lift in social impressions. It’s unclear what those impressions have increased from and what they’ve increased to as the company declined to share year-over-year figures to track that increase. 

Upping digital is part of an overall strategy change for the company’s marketing, moving dollars from local to national, taking marketing dollars from local restaurants and putting them toward a national approach. 

“As we broaden all these digital capabilities, it’s really driving the investment from the restaurant level to the digital space,” said Purdue. “We’re able to do that because we have a strong digital business.” 

This past March, the company partnered with and spent media dollars on Venmo to debut its rewards program, Chipotle Rewards, by giving away $250,000 to 25,000 fans. After signing up for the rewards program, consumers were asked to submit a phone number associated with their Venmo account for the possibility of getting anywhere from $1 to $500 from Chipotle. Winners were alerted with a notification as well as a note from Chipotle and a pepper emoji. As of June 30, the rewards program had 5 million members.

We were already one of the top brands on Venmo being used for payment,” said Purdue. “What better way to drive awareness of our new rewards program than rewarding our customers with free money through the digital wallet they already use?”  

In partnering with Venmo and TikTok, as well as increasing its digital budget, Chipotle believes it will be seen as a more convenient brand that allows for more personalization, per Purdue. 

“Generally speaking, fast-casual consumer food brands are very on the pulse of what’s emerging in culture for that generation they’re going after,” said Christophe Jammet, managing director at innovation consultancy DDG. “To attract millennial, younger audiences, they really need to be dialed into what’s being used, so upping the digital spend makes a lot of sense.” 

While the company is increasing its digital focus, it is also working with more influencers (the company declined to share how much its influencer budget has increased) and considering spending on podcasts. “[You can] tell a richer story about sustainability or ingredients and that [medium] lends itself to it,” said Purdue. “As a brand, we want to be more transparent.”

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