On July 25, a handful of people milled about New York’s Times Square, constantly checking their phones and glancing up at the huge digital billboard on the Nasdaq building on the corner of 7th Ave. and West 43rd St.
They weren’t the usual tourists, but representatives of Chipotle’s social media team.
On the billboard, a Chipotle ad exhorted people to “Buy the Dip. Eat the Dip” — a campaign advertising a contest to win free cryptocurrency that could, in turn, be used to buy food at the restaurant chain’s outlets. “We knew that day we wanted to showcase the billboard,” says Neiv Toledano, social media manager at Chipotle. “We had the team out at Times Square, getting ready to take the photo and snap that moment.”
But the team had to wait, because the snap was for BeReal, the French social media app that encourages people worldwide to take a photo during the same two-minute window. Sure enough, when the notification came through, the Chipotle crew took the picture of the billboard, and posted it to followers on the app, which has been downloaded 41 million times this year alone. (BeReal’s early success hasn’t gone unnoticed: Today, TikTok announced its clone of BeReal’s features, called TikTok Now.)
The Times Square billboard reveal was a major moment for the brand, which is far from the only company to hop on to the buzzy app. Sour Patch Kids have played with the concept of one of its sugar-coated gummies taking the photos. (BeReal shows both front-facing and rear-facing images.) Pac-Sun chose to present real people having fun as part of its branding on the app. And e.l.f. Beauty’s BeReal offers supposedly unfiltered insights into what happens at the company’s headquarters.
In April, Chipotle noticed that BeReal was becoming popular, and decided to monitor how users posted before leaping in the following month. “The way we think about social media is through this lens of culture hunting. We’re constantly looking to see where consumers are and thinking about how we can engage our community,” says Chipotle’s vice president of digital marketing and off-premise, Tressie Lieberman.
“We think about each individual platform and the creative capabilities it has, and will customize our content based off that platform,” Lieberman continues. “Obviously, BeReal is very unique: It was about showing that true view into the brand.”
Whether being on BeReal is a wise move for most brands is up for debate. “The big thing I keep going back to is it’s hard to tell if BeReal is here to stay, like TikTok was a few years ago, or if it’s just going to be a fad app that disappears in the next couple of months and doesn’t pick up momentum,” says Nathan Allebach, creative director at Allebach Communications and formerly the voice behind Steak-umm’s distinctive social media presence. “Right now, brands and celebrities are in the feeling-out process of determining if this has staying power.”
That involves tiptoeing slowly into the space. Allebach points to one of Chipotle’s advertising concepts on BeReal, in which the company featured a still image with a promotional code advertising the product. “You could tell it was already set up,” he says. “But for anything more elaborate, anything that requires more involvement or mascots or anything complex, the whole thing is really not feasible.”
Toledano admits that Chipotle’s initial launch on BeReal had plenty of planning involved. “The week [in late May] we dropped the codes, we were ready,” she says. Chipotle had food cooked and redemption codes written on napkins. “We really dedicated that entire week to doing the Chipotle drops on the platform,” says Toledano.
Allebach has previously pointed out the labor conditions for social media managers are not the most conducive to a good lifestyle. “Social media managers are already expected to be on-call all throughout the week, and sometimes even the weekends,” he says. “For this content to work, you really have to be planning every day or couple of days a certain look or setting you’re ready to go with — presumably for small returns.”
You’re also expecting social media managers in charge of a brand’s BeReal account to be on-call constantly, ready to drop everything whether they’re in the middle of a meal or a bathroom break, in order to post to the app. (BeReal can ping a notification at any time during people’s waking hours, as determined by time zone.)
“But the reality of the app is there is some forgiveness with the notification,” Toledano says. (BeReal allows users to post outside the 120-second window, albeit with a tag that indicates that they were late.) She adds that Chipotle’s social media team tries to use BeReal in the same way any other user would.
But the same things that make BeReal so interesting for everyday users — the lack of control, the immediacy, the rawness — are aspects that social media marketing, with its layers of bureaucracy, tends to abhor.
“Logistically, BeReal seems like a nightmare to deal with, especially for smaller brands.”
“The whole point of the app is to have fun and be transparent,” says Lieberman. “It doesn’t have to be a perfect photo.” That said, she does admit the images posted on BeReal are checked over by a colleague before posting. “That’s something we’re comfortable with because we have built the process,” says Lieberman. “We’re pretty seamless when it comes to creating the content, then getting it out there.”
While conglomerates may feel comfortable experimenting to see if they can turn a BeReal presence into real bucks, Allebach is less sure that it’s the future for the little guys. “Logistically, BeReal seems like a nightmare to deal with,” he says, “especially for smaller brands.”
For now though, there is the halo effect of being among the first brands on a relatively new platform. And, as Allebach points out, it’s working. After all, Input is writing about Chipotle, providing it with “earned media,” i.e., unpaid coverage.
“Brands are trying to get caught up in that initial groundswell,” Allebach says. “But if we talk four to five months from now, I’m not so sure it’ll still be hot as it is right now.”