Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

NIU students grab top prize in Chipotle advertising contest

November 19, 2007

by Tom Parisi

For four NIU students and their professor, life isn’t just good. It is, as the advertising jingle goes, burritoful.

Chipotle team

“Just the fax” – a video ad produced by communication majors Chris Darkes, Brittany Samson, Sara Honchar and Joe Giorgi – took top honors in Chipotle Mexican Grill’s student advertising contest, “30 Seconds of Fame.”

Chipotle announced two first-place winners last week. The NIU team of students will split the $15,000 prize with a student team from Chapman University. An additional $7,500 from Chipotle goes to each university.

Video entries from all 12 finalists, which included a second team from NIU, are posted at

Members of Chipotle’s internal marketing team selected the winners, said Chris Arnold, Chipotle public relations director. Judges looked for creativity and originality, consistency with brand and production value. They found all of the above in “Just the Fax.”

The spot uses no dialogue while telling the story of a famished officer worker (played by Darkes) whose Chipotle burrito order arrives in a rather unconventional way.

“We like the focused approach it took on promoting one element of our business, that being the fax-ordering capabilities,” Arnold said. “We thought the production value was really top notch, and the subtle humor really fit our personality and culture. It was a really good spot across the board.”

Arnold said Chipotle representatives, who will visit campus to deliver the prize money, don’t have specific plans for how the first-place ads might be used.

Last year’s winning spots were displayed during the holidays on the big screen in New York City’s Times Square. One of the spots also ran during the BCS championship football game, and some were used in movie-theater advertising.

The idea for the “Just the Fax” entry came to Darkes in a dream, he said. The NIU students filmed their ad in the Experiential Learning Center in the College of Business.

“We had a really good feeling about our spot,” Darkes said.

“It’s a huge thrill,” added Sara Honchar. “I was confident we had done a really good job, but I had no idea.”

Communication Professor Laura Vazquez, who advises the NIU Student Film and Video Association and teaches media production, could hardly contain her exuberance. The NIU students were competing against peers from universities with larger advertising and video-production programs.

“We’re up there with the top dogs – and we’re winning,” Vazquez told students who had gathered for a conference call with Chipotle reps to announce the contest results.

“Steak dinners on Vazquez,” one student chimed in.

Make that steak burritos.