I wrote a post similar to this last year, titled: “The Dark(ish) side of Chipotle.” I am saddened to find myself returning to this negativity while discussing another of my favorite college-student-hang-out places, Panera Bread. I’ve caught a few glimpses of Panera’s new marketing scheme on the television:
It hasn’t taken off quite as dramatically as Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” escapade:
…but, it is enough to get people talking, and my blood boiling a bit. Here were my main arguments about Chipotle’s advertising campaign, which debuted on the big stage during the 2012 Super Bowl, and which can be applied to Panera:
“Chipotle does play the advertising game incredibly well. They provide us with enough insight into their products to make them seem exceptional because they avoid antibiotics. Chipotle fails to mention, however, that the United States Department of Agriculture requires that antibiotic residues do not exist in an animal before it is slaughtered. This means that, although a withdrawal period is mandatory before slaughter, the animal may have consumed antibiotics in their lifetime.
Chipotle effectively enhances their advertising with buzzwords like “organic” and “local” [and in this case of Panera, “antibiotic free”]. This is where creative jargon truly plays a role: The fact that they use such products “when practical” implies that they try very hard to have these products. Yes, and I am also trying pretty darn hard to get a 4.0; you can try as hard as you want, but Ithaca is not going to be producing mass quantities of avocados for guacamole this March. It is very easy to see how one may take these buzzwords, in addition to Chipotle’s reputation for being “fresh” and “healthy,” and assume the food is, in fact, healthy. [Likewise for Panera’s offerings] Like all fast food, serving size is a big issue. An innocent burrito can quickly become an overstuffed, king sized monolith packing over 1200 calories, exceeding the caloric intake of a Big Mac and large fries from McDonald’s.” (Originally published here.)
As I continued in this post, “For many hapless souls, the most offensive piece of the Chipotle “Back to the Start” advertisement was negative light cast on today’s stereotypical farmer. The story follows a farmer who uses century-old techniques, then chooses to expand his farm. As soon as his operation grows into the much vilified “factory farm,” the overly idealistic clip returns ‘Back to the Start’ of agriculture. Chipotle is trying to capitalize on making today’s farmers look bad, attributing human characteristics to each individual pig, and thus grasping at the consumer’s heart strings.”
In the Panera commercial, similar is done with the chicken. Anthropomorphizing our food, and subtly degrading the work of farmers by implying them to be increasingly lazy, is haphazardly biting the hand that feeds us. One of my favorite stories is about a man on a plane reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and complaining about the scary technologies used to make our food today; the farmer sitting next to him replies with something along the lines of, “Would you ever go to a doctor using a stethoscope instead of an MRI?” Why (and HOW?) can we expect farmers to produce food for the 21st century world using technologies from the early 1900s?
Fellow Blogger “Dairy Carrie” goes on her own, similar rant on this topic, and I recommend checking out her more detailed exploration in her post, “Dear Panera Bread Company.”
I’m not sure I will go so far as to boycott Panera, but, like Chipotle, I will definitely keep these things in mind when deciding where to take my business.