Commentary

The 'b' Is For Burgers, IHOP Says, Igniting A Beneficial Battle

The IHOb reveal yesterday — the “b” in the fast-food joint heretofore and henceforth known as IHOP stands for burgers — continues to reap short-term social media benefits. Whether the gimmick sizzles or fizzles as a way to generate more traffic after the breakfast hours remains to be seen.

“The newly dubbed IHOP is releasing seven Ultimate Steakburgers as part of its rebranding effort — all the while keeping its breakfast items on the menu,” observes Ben Tobin for USA Today. “Though the company has been offering burgers since its creation in 1958, IHOP’s main motive for revamping the menu item and emphasizing it is to attract a wider audience.”

“The big opportunity for the IHOb brand is to develop our lunch and dinner business,” CMO Brad Haley tells him. “Burgers are the most consumed entree item for men, women and children in America.”  

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But the IHOb rebranding is, for the most part, no deeper than a fleeting tagline.

“We are definitely going to be IHOP,” IHOP president Darren Rebelez tells CNNMoney’s Paul R. La Monica. “But we want to convey that we are taking our burgers as seriously as our pancakes.”

“An IHOP in Hollywood is getting new IHOb signs, and some others might get the treatment. The new IHOb Twitter account even retweeted photos and video of a construction crew putting up the new sign in LA,” La Monica reports.

Scrolling through slides on #ihob show some of the amplifying shade competitors threw IHOb’s way after it declared: “Our NEW burgers are so burgerin’ good, we changed our name to IHOb. For burgers.”

“Remember when you were like 7 and thought changing your name to Thunder BearSword would be super cool?” asked Wendy’s. “Like that, but our cheeseburgers are still better.”

“White Castle joined in on the fun, sarcastically tweeting its own ‘announcement,’” reports Ariel Scotti for the New York Daily News. “We are excited to announce that we will be switching our name to Pancake Castle.”

“But even with the apparent marketing success, it’s unclear whether the name change will have more than a temporary effect on sales,” writes Ethan Millman for the Los Angeles Times.

“Pizza Hut ran a similar campaign about 10 years ago when it changed its name to Pasta Hut,” Stephen Anderson, SVP of investment banking firm Maxim Group, tells Millman, noting that the campaign helped boost sales for a year.

“Then there’s the matter of obscuring IHOP’s hard-won reputation as a place to go for the first meal of the day,” Millman continues.

“The rebranding does surprise me because when you’ve got a brand as established and known as IHOP, you don’t want to change that,” research analyst Malcolm Knapp tells him.

IHOP CMO Haley tells the New York Times’ Jonah Engel Bromwich that the marketing idea had been proposed by Droga5 in November. 

“Droga5 had originally pitched a campaign based on the idea of ‘pancakes, pancakes, pancakes,’” according to Haley. “So we said that’s great, we agree with that approach, obviously, and we subsequently hired them. But we said, there will come times when we want to promote something other than pancakes. They came back with the idea of IHOb.”

“And while [Haley] spoke about the IHOb marketing campaign, which is set to wind down at the end of the summer, in the past tense, he was already looking forward to the days when people would be nostalgic for it,” Bromwich writes.

As you no doubt intuitively know, reactions to the ploy have been passionately mixed.

“IHOP changing their name to International House of Burgers is like your Grandma saying from now on she’s your Aunt” is one tweet cited by Chris Crowley for Grub Street. “You guys had the opportunity to be international house of brunch and you screwed it all up. cmon,” is another.

But as you know from years of experience, it sometimes doesn’t matter what people are saying about you as long as they are saying something.

“Let the record show that the original IHOP/IHOb tweet was liked 21,000 times in around seven hours, while the Wendy's reply got more than 96,000 likes in roughly half that time,” reports NPR’s Bill Chappell.

“IHOP had promised to shake things up as it marks 60 years in business; it did so in part by transposing b’s and p’s in its social media messages as it encouraged people to guess what the change would be — possibilities became bossibilities, for instance,” Chappell points out.

“Picking up on the company's tricks, when one Twitter user said on Monday, ‘Your marketing team needs to be fired…ASAP,’ another simply replied, ‘ASAB,’ Chappell continues.

And we imaging the marketing team, in response, was slapping high fives.

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