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4 Ways Chipotle's Burrito Card Proves the Power of Exclusivity in Brand Promotion

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I’m a huge fan of Chipotle burritos, but I'm an even bigger fan of the company’s branding and marketing -- specifically their elusive burrito card. It’s brilliant and I want one.

So, what is Chipotle’s burrito card? It’s a card that’s given to select celebrities, athletes and public figures that rewards them with a free burrito daily -- whether it’s lifetime or for a one-year period is debatable based on reports and social media posts. Regardless, it’s a coveted card that many would love to have find itself into his or her possession.

Related: The Basics of Branding

Here are four key points that every business owner and entrepreneur can take away from Chipotle’s burrito card:

1. Exclusivity creates curiosity.

There isn’t any information on Chipotle’s website regarding the burrito card. There also isn’t any public knowledge of how many exist or what criteria Chipotle looks for when targeting future burrito ambassadors. The card is somewhat of a mystery -- it’s exclusive, which creates curiosity and gets people talking about the burrito brand. 

This same type of mystery buzz was leveraged by American Express years ago when they first introduced their Centurion Card, which was coined the Black Card. There were rumors of a Black Card that allowed its owner to purchase anything, with no spending limit, dating back to the 1980’s. Only in recent years has information about the card appeared on the American Express website -- and they still don’t publicly state what the exact requirements and criteria are to be upgraded from their Platinum Card to the Centurion Card.

2. Social media influencers are ridiculously powerful and effective.

Using social media influencers to promote your brand can be extremely effective. Chipotle’s burrito card is something that was introduced to the public through social media. A number of celebrities and athletes have shared pictures of their custom cards on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Their posts are authentic -- they are genuinely excited to receive the card and almost always tag and mention Chipotle in the posts. Their social following is quick to comment are share, providing Chipotle with incredibly valuable organic social media engagements and exposure.

Here’s a great example -- professional baseball player Bryce Harper received the burrito card back in 2013 and shared the news with his Twitter followers. The tweet has received 1,648 retweets and 1,536 likes as of this writing. 

3. Monetary value is irrelevant.

Chipotle’s burrito card is rumored to grant its owner one free burrito a day. The individuals that have these cards in their possession don’t need a free burrito -- they have the financial capability to buy a burrito every day that costs less than $9 (yes, including the guacamole upcharge). The monetary value is completely irrelevant. 

The value of what you are giving away doesn’t have to be outrageous. As long as your concept is unique, you can use something as simple as free burritos to create raving brand promoters.

Related: Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer: This Is the Key to Authenticity

4. Brand promoters can give you an extremely low cost-per-engagement.

I’m going to use the Bryce Harper tweet above as an example. Between retweets and likes, that tweet has generated 3,184 engagements as of this writing. I have no idea what a burrito costs Chipotle to produce at a break-even point. I’m going to assume I am greatly exaggerating by using $5 per burrito in this example. Let’s assume that Bryce Harper somehow manages to eat one burrito a day -- taking full advantage of the opportunity -- and consumes 365 free burritos.

Using my estimated (I'm completely guessing here) $5 per burrito cost, that would set Chipotle back $1,825. Those Twitter engagements would break down to a cost of approximately 57 cents each. Not only is that an extremely low cost-per-engagement rate, but more importantly, those engagements are coming from Bryce Harper fans. They see the excitement that Harper is showing for the brand, and that kind of excitement can be contagious when coming form an influencer. 

Do you have a question pertaining to online marketing and growing your business online? Would you like to be featured in an upcoming book? If so, please submit your question here for a chance to be included in my new book.

Related: Treat Customers as Co-authors, Not Targets, and Hit a Marketing Bullseye

Jonathan Long

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Jonathan Long is the founder of Uber Brands, a brand-development agency focusing on ecommerce.