In Branding & Identity, Marketing & Advertising, Marketing Strategy

For decades we’ve known of IHOP as the “International House of Pancakes”, that is until last week when they changed things on us overnight. IHOP flipped it’s P and turned it into a b and everyone was confused. Could it be for “breakfast” or “bacon” or something else related to their brand of 24/7 breakfast? In a surprising twist, this week we were informed that no, the b has nothing to do with breakfast. It stands for “burger”, something that the restaurant chain already offers on their menu and that they are not known for. Seems bizarre, doesn’t it? Though we can’t tell how this stunt will affect business for IHOP – excuse me, “IHOb” – we can tell you how similar exploits have helped or hindered other brands.






We’ve spent a lot of time working with brands to create their brand story. Whether it’s an existing brand that needs a tune up – like what IHOb is attempting to do – or a start-up trying to get some attention, we’ve navigated these waters of experiential marketing tactics to get brands some love. You can read more about our work with brand stories here. And, for a really tasty treat that showcases building a brand from the bottom up, you should seriously see our work with Baby Blues BBQ.

Stunt marketing isn’t new and has been around for quite some time, they just seemed to have really ramped up since digital marketing took over. With the rapid turnover on social media, brands are constantly in competition to outdo each other and find ways to stand out in the crowd. What better way than to do something absolutely ridiculous? Negative attention is still attention, but does it actually help your brand? Some of the best examples of stunt marketing campaigns prove that this can really work.

  • 1903 – Tour de France: We know this as the most entertaining bike race there is, but it started as a publicity stunt in 1903 to promote a French newspaper and boost circulation.
  • 1921 – The Miss America pageant: This was also a stunt. Yep, that’s right, it was created in 1921 as a clever way to bring tourist action to Atlantic City.  

A century later and these two events are still going strong, but for the brands, they were promoting it’s questionable. More recently, we’ve seen brands attempt to create buzz with risky manoeuvres, and it’s really paid off.

  • 1999 – Virgin Airlines:  When Virgin’s airline rival, British Airways, couldn’t get the London Eye back up and running in 1999, Virgin sent a giant blimp over the city reading “BA can’t get it up”. The trick got them noticed. Brands can take note that responding last minute to a topical event with a stunt can be extremely successful.

  • 2005 – Maui Beverages:  This was a little-known brand that took a big risk. They changed their executive titles to Chief Entertainment Officer and Chief Tasting Officer and threw a giant Jimmy Buffett-style party, filled with giveaways and promotions. It worked. By the next year, their annual sales jumped $4 million.
  • 2012 – Red Bull: The energy drink conceived, produced and broadcast a stunt to show Felix Baumgartner becoming the first person to break the sound barrier by falling 23 miles from the Earth’s stratosphere. They achieved 8 million live views for the feat. This is a lesson that brands can really look outside the box, and we mean way out of the box, to find unlikely partners that can yield big results.
  • 2018 – KFC:  We should also talk about the relentless stunt campaigns done by another restaurant chain, KFC. The fast-food chain is known for putting out absurd products in the name of selling chicken, and it works. They’ve sold nail polish, bath bombs, and even this year released scratch and sniff chicken smelling Valentine’s Day cards. 
  • 2018 Tesla: The car giant took things to a whole different level by launching a car into space and showcasing the stunt via real-time video, with some hailing it as “the greatest car ad of all time”  with millions tuning in to watch the maiden voyage. We can all take away that any stunt that can create shareable content like this that audiences can really engage in will turn into a big success.So, stunt campaigns work? Well, not so fast. There have been plenty of stunts gone wrong, for example.
  • 2004 – Pontiac: The car manufacturer teamed up with the queen of TV Oprah and supplied the cars that she famously gave away to everyone in her audience. Do you remember the cars being given away? Yep. What about the maker of the cars? I’m guessing not. Though the stunt is still one of the most talked about, almost all of the attention goes to Oprah, not Pontiac.
  • 2006 – Lifelock: LifeLock decided to put the CEO’s social security number on a billboard to see how well the company could protect him. The stunt failed miserably and ended with the Federal Trade Commission fining them $12 million for deceptive advertising

While these stunts help to bring attention to your brand, It’s easy to step in a wrong direction and get bad attention. With IHOb, they’re getting tons of attention from all different sources of media. But they’re also giving their competition a platform to shame them. Take Burger King, who this week cheekily changed their name to “Pancake King” across their social channels.


We won’t know if this temporary stunt will help or hurt IHOb/IHOP, but we do know that the risk they’re taking is that they’re stepping away from their brand story. From our experience we’ve learnt a few things along the way:

  • Turning away from your specific brand narrative will confuse your audience.  
  • Think about your resultant content; almost all stunts demand an image or video element.
  • Though stunts can work, they have to be within your brand narrative and don’t include a mega superstar that can overshadow the actual message.
  • It helps to create something that’s shareable, that will engage the audience, that has the power to spread your message, and that will leave a lasting impression of your brand.
  • Be ready for what might come after the stunt. If it’s bad press, be ready to twist it in a positive direction. If it’s good press, how can you sustain it?

Sure, stunt campaigns can help you stand out in a time where there is so much noise it can feel like you’ll never be seen. But you have to be smart about it. Know what you’re aiming for and know your audience.




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