#OPSPOV: Hulu and Chipotle Push Native Forward With “Farmed and Dangerous”

Some may see Hannah on “Girls” thriving in a native advertising job at GQ as a sign that the movement has jumped the shark. However, I’m of quite the opposite mindset, especially after viewing Hulu’s latest native ad product, “Farmed and Dangerous,” a four-part comdey series accurately labeled as a piece of Chipotle content marketing. The first episode is now playing on Hulu (FYI, new SVP of Sales Peter Naylor is the opening keynote at PubForum New Orleans next week), and although it’s flawed as a program, the product potential is quite intriguing.

While The New Yorker takes its time in explaining that scripted content brought to you by a sponsor is actually a blast from the past, “Farmed and Dangerous” shares qualities with more contemporary content marketing and native products. The show doesn’t feature the brand (I hear Chipotle’s logo shows up a few times, but I didn’t notice it in the first episode – and I was on the lookout), but serves to inform viewers about topics related to Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” marketing. 

If you’re into dark satire like me, you might have been intrigued by the premise of an industrial farming lobbyist spinning a controversy around petroleum-fed cows that explode. I was sold on trying an episode before I realized it was aligned with Chipotle’s ongoing marketing efforts around its “high-quality ingredients” (I’ve read many that beg to differ, but I have no expertise). And after I saw the “Chipotle presents” label, I figured I had to watch it for work.

So is it any good? Are there laughs? Yeah, “Farmed and Dangerous” is not a bad watch – a bit more risqué than your average network sitcom, but most of the acting besides secret weapon Ray Wise (the marketing with Wise holding a pitchfork appeals to those who remember he played the devil on the short-lived “Reaper”) is C-grade at best. The direction and editing are sloppy at times (granted, we’ve been spoiled by Netflix’s impressive creations; Hulu has produced some very cheap-looking animated shows), but the show’s worst crime is being extremely heavy-handed.

The satire is painted in the broadest strokes – the hero exudes smarm rather than charisma while the “villains” all come across as buffoons with no self-awareness. (Then again, working in DC, I quickly learned lobbyists have little of that quality.) Even the premise of feeding cattle petroleum products seems a little strained – would that really be cheaper than current operations. 

Also, there’s an interesting scene in which the industrial farm supporters seem disgusted by the idea of an organic restaurant; the show is obfuscating class issues around genetically modified food. Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto (the obvious inspiration for “Farmed and Dangerous’” evil corporation Farmoil), made headlines last year for suggesting GM food was for poor people as claims circled that his family only consumed organic food. 

But I’m willing to cut Hulu and Chipotle some slack because agriculture is a complicated business and satire is one of the toughest genres to nail. It’s probably the best format, though, for bringing across so much pertinent information about the “food industry,” including several digs at government subsidies to corporate farms. No matter if it reinforces Chipotle’s marketing angle, this is knowledge worth spreading.

I doubt we will see the makers of “Farmed and Dangerous” accepting any Emmys later this year – like a lot of native content, the show feels like a simulation of a non-sponsored satire. Still, this is not a listicle, it’s a bold foray by a bold brand: Chipotle eschews traditional television advertising, and instead has delivered well-produced and engaging digital videos via YouTube

And native video is an evolving field: years ago BMW had several well-regarded action film directors produce shorts centered around their vehicles. GE is constantly producing videos and other content around fascinating stories within its worldwide operations. Red Bull has an exclusive TV channel with original content that you can stream on OTT devices.

What’s really interesting with “Farmed and Dangerous” is Hulu’s participation as a multichannel video publisher. Many of the above examples were limited to brands’ own sites (limited distribution) and/or YouTube (limited curation). Since the show is exclusive to Hulu, the publisher marketed it during commercial breaks of other programs. It’s exactly like a web publisher trying to draw on-site traffic to sponsored content.

Which means this must be interesting territory for ops, whose role in native is evolving just like the channel. Also I was a little surprised there were commercial breaks during “Farmed and Dangerous” – Chipotle apparently isn’t the exclusive sponsor. Still, it couldn’t be good if a Taco Bell ad showed up during a viewing. What advertisers are all right to go around such content and how does that affect inventory management?n Finally, how is the show’s performance being judged – what are the metrics? Is there a way to tie it to Chipotle sales?

While the content itself may be lacking in areas, I’m curious to see if further native projects spring from Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous,” and how such products affect ops duties. For sure I’ve got some questions for PubForum Keynote Peter Naylor, the new SVP of Sales for Hulu.