It seems the IHOb saga has come to an end, with the company announcing the return of their original moniker, IHOP. Yep, the whole thing was a big publicity stunt. In my first article on #IHOb, I talked about stunt marketing and how tricky it can be to hit the right notes. Check it out here
This week, the restaurant chain announced the name change on social media, and that they will be selling their short stack pancakes for 60 cents on July 17 in honor of their 60th birthday. So, perhaps rather smartly, they’re using another promotional stunt to bring back the pancakes they’re known for. At least this one should actually encourage food fans aligned with their brand to visit their restaurant because it seems IHOb didn’t.
The problem with stunt marketing is that there’s a fine line between success and failure – often based on the internal metrics you set but that isn’t always clear to the pundits in the social-verse who will judge and slam you as they speculate about your intent. Sure, you can get your brand some social media attention, but usually, that is brief before attention is shifted to the next stunt and you have to ask, has this brand realignment caused damage? Social media attention doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve reached your consumer, changed their mind about your brand, and convinced them to buy into your brand. For IHOP, the stunt came at a time when they really needed a change. Sales have fallen over the past few years due to declining brand awareness and diet trends that didn’t exactly include pancakes. Average consumer interest in pancakes has fallen 20% since 2010.
Burgers, on the other hand, have doubled in consumer conversations in the past five years. IHOP had a new line of burgers to promote, opening up an opportunity to promote their brand and their menu changes while also having some fun with consumers. The brand promotion portion definitely worked.
Conversations about IHOb/IHOP skyrocketed. Some have tried to figure out if it was really a success, but there are mixed messages. Foursquare has claimed that the foot traffic to IHOP/IHOb hardly changed. They claim that a few more men went into the chains, but fewer women than ever ventured to the restaurants. Of course, IHOP has claimed differently and that they have received great feedback on their burgers. It’s yet to be seen if there was actual success with sales, or if the whole thing was just a social media frenzy.
What we do know is that the social media conversation can easily flip to a negative. Much of the initial buzz was not positive. It was met with confusion and disdain for the abrupt change of the brand image they’ve known for decades. But as the restaurant announced its return to the International House of Pancakes, the internet really had a field day. Social media fans used the announcement as a chance to harp on the brand for lying to them, making them the butt of the joke. IHOP’s fake rebrand has proved to be more of an obvious stunt, with some negative backlash that will likely disappear soon as some other brand will take its place in the spotlight.
For brands, this serves as a great lesson. Sure, you can throw your fans through a loop and give yourself a different name or completely change your brand narrative in some other equally drastic way. But, it’s important to remember that you want to gain sustainable awareness that will convince consumers to buy into your brand. In the world of social media, everything is instant and it’s tempting to try and gain the quick attention. You just don’t want to step on your own toes by going for a buzzworthy off brand stunt only to lose your audience.