IHOP Risks Being Flattened Like a Pancake Over Name Change

Thom Weidlich 06.14.18


Last week we wrote about brands deftly defending themselves when put in uncomfortable (usually political) situations. This week we have an example of a brand putting itself in a potentially uncomfortable position — but being prepared for it. We speak, of course, of the Great IHOP Name-Change Publicity Stunt.

It all began on Monday, June 4, when IHOP — the International House of Pancakes — suddenly announced, “For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could b on 6.11.18. #IHOb.”

Huh? thought breakfast eaters around the world.The famous restaurant chain is changing its name? Whatever can it mean?

People had fun guessing what the could “b” (breakfast? bacon? bitcoin?). They had to hold their breath for an entire week, after which IHOP — er, IHOb — announced, “Dear Internet, we abbreciate your batience. Now let’s see who guessed right. B-hold!!!!! #IHOb.”

The stands for … burgers! IHOP (the name change is temporary) is introducing a new line of steak burgers. It’s trying to rebrand itself from a pancake place to a burger joint.

As Andrea Cheng in Forbes explained, all types of restaurants, including family and casual dining, are facing tough times. Traffic continues to decline, though sales saw a small uptick in April. Ergo, innovations must be attempted.

The company created an @ihob Twitter account, and some of its restaurants, including in Hollywood, are getting new “IHOb” signs.

Stock Price

In one sense, the campaign appears to be a success. Glendale, California-based IHOP is owned by Dine Brands Global (which also owns Applebee’s); Dine Brands’ stock has rocketed 10 percent since the announcement Monday. Dine Brands CEO Stephen Joyce, credited with previously turning around Choice Hotels, has been in his current position since September and appears to be the force behind the hoopla.

The campaign is obviously one that could be ridiculed — and it has been. AdWeek noted that other brands have struggled when they tried to (even temporarily) change their names, including Pizza Hut to Pasta Hut. Or think New Coke. But IHOP was prepared for the backlash (as in, crisis preparedness).

First, those gibes. The company, it must be admitted, took a drubbing from its competitors. To wit:

Whataburger: “As much as we love our pancakes, we’d never change our name to Whatapancake.”

White Castle: “We are excited to announce that we will be switching our name to Pancake Castle.”

Wendy’s: “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.”

There was also some consumer backlash. For example one person wrote on Twitter, “I’m going to say nope! I’ll get my burgers from a burger joint. I want pancakes from a pancake joint.”

Creating Buzz

Now, we have to admit that creating buzz is one reason companies whip up these crazy campaigns. But we don’t agree with USA Today that “IHOP may be gearing up to serve a new line of burgers, but it sure wasn’t prepared for a beef on Twitter.”

First of all, the burger announcement (and defense of it) was an all-hands-on-deck affair. IHOP dispatched its president, CEO, and other executives to do interviews. “We are definitely going to be IHOP,” President Darren Rebelez told CNNMoney. “But we want to convey that we are taking our burgers as seriously as our pancakes.”

Asked about any potential backlash, Rebelez punted and said that “people were having fun with the name change and were trying to solve the riddle.”

And some of IHOP’s responses invoked humor. For example, it replied to Wendy’s (known for its saucy tweets) thusly: “We don’t want any beef with you, we just want to share our beef with the world.”

Is that so wrong?

Photo Credit: IHOP

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