BBB National Programs Archive


Even Claims That Are ‘Aspirational’ Require Adequate Substantiation

New York, NY – April 23, 2012 – The National Advertising Division has determined that Chipotle Mexican Grill can support implied claims made in an animated feature, “Back to the Start,” that all animals which provide the meat for Chipotle products are naturally raised.

NAD is an investigative arm of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory system (ASRC) and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The advertising at issue appeared on the YouTube website, online at, on Chipotle’s Facebook page, in movie theaters in advance of feature films, and on television. It uses stop-motion animation to depict a farmer’s journey to sustainable farming.

NAD requested that the advertiser provide substantiation for two implied messages:

  • Chipotle’s goal is to exclusively use “naturally-raised” meat in its restaurants
  • Chipotle has already achieved this goal and all of the animals which provide the meat (pork, chicken and beef) for Chipotle products are, in fact, “naturally-raised.”

The video – a first for Chipotle – was directed by London-based John Kelly and features a cover of the Coldplay song “The Scientist,” sung by music icon and family farm advocate Willie Nelson.

NAD, in its decision, noted that it “appreciates the challenges faced by advertisers who wish to communicate information to consumers about sustainability measures taken by a company.  NAD recognizes the positive role that advertising can play in raising consciousness about sustainability and informing consumers of the activities and commitments made by the company. Nevertheless, because images and terms suggestive of sustainability can give rise to so many different meanings and expectations on the part of consumers, such claims can be difficult to substantiate.” 

NAD recognized that there is a distinction between, on one hand, an advertisement that claims the advertiser possesses green attributes or sustainable practices, and, on the other hand, an advertisement that communicates a goal of sustainability or a more aspirational message. NAD noted however, that even if the advertisement’s message of sustainability is merely aspirational, the advertising claim still requires substantiation.

The advertiser explained that its website, other marketing materials and its filings before the Securities and Exchange Commission include in-depth information about the company’s Food with Integrity programs, including indications of how much meat is “naturally-raised” – using Chipotle’s definition of “naturally-raised,” (a more stringent definition than the one established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), how much produce is organic or locally sourced, and how much dairy comes from pasture-raised cows.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD found that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for the two messages implied in the “Back to the Start” film – both its aspirational message and the message that all of the animals which provide the meat for

Chipotle are, in fact, “naturally-raised” according to Chipotle’s own definition of the term.

However, NAD cautioned the advertiser that, although its implied messages are currently substantiated, to the extent that supply constraints result in shortages of “naturally-raised” meats in particular markets, future advertising may need to disclose this fact.

Notwithstanding the advertiser’s actions in achieving its goal to serve only “naturally-raised” meat in its restaurants, NAD believes that it is important to stress that an advertiser is obligated to possess support for its claims at the time its advertising is disseminated to the public. At the time the “Back to the Start” commercial aired in August 2011, although 100% of the pork served in Chipotle restaurants was “naturally-raised”, only about 80% of Chipotle restaurants served “naturally-raised” chicken and 86% served “naturally-raised” beef.

Thus, for up to two months, only the advertiser’s implied aspirational message was substantiated.  In planning future advertising, NAD recommended that the advertiser obtain substantiation for all express and implied claims before disseminating its advertising messages.

Chipotle, in advertiser’s statement, said the company disagreed that the film “includes an implied claim that all of the animals that produce the meat for Chipotle products are, in fact, naturally raised.  The film makes no such claim, and we are comfortable that the film was not misleading even before October 2011, when we first achieved our goal for 100% of the meat we serve in our restaurants to be naturally raised.”

However, the company said, it believes that “advertising should be truthful, non-misleading and adequately supported, and we intend to continue to satisfy that standard in all marketing materials we produce in the future.”