#PRWin: IHOP Wins Over the Public with Hamburgers?
In case you didn’t know, “IHOP” is short for The International House of Pancakes. The famous breakfast food restaurant chain began using the shorter acronym back in 1973. At the time they were using a cartoon kangaroo in their logo (get it?) and since then, the two versions of their name have been interchangeable.1
In 2019, IHOP went a little bit further with the change in nomenclature, sort of. In a stunt to promote new burger additions to their menu, they temporarily “changed” their name to “IHOb”.
At first you many think that this was a relative non-event. New burgers. Slightly different name – what’s the big deal? Well, you’ve likely heard the term, brand loyalty. So, when you mess with a brand that’s as beloved as IHOP, you sometimes stir up controversy, even if it’s just a way to sell some hamburgers. And that’s what the name-change-that-really-wasn’t stunt did.2
When their audience got wind of the IHOb campaign, their reaction wasn’t excitement over the new menu options – more like, “You changed the name?! WHY???”
Suddenly, IHOP’s burger push turned into a PR crisis situation – and if it wasn’t not handled right – was poised to become an all-out PR disaster.
Good thing IHOP knew something about crisis management 101, as instead of making excuses or trying to pull the wool over its audience’s eyes, IHOP embraced their faux pas and made the announcement that they would be changing the “b” Back to a “P” the messages of relief came through. (And thus, fixing the crisis). But more importantly, word of the burgers spread…
Did the communication strategy work? Well, let’s see…the name-change-that-really-wasn’t generated about 20,000 news articles (Wow) and 36 billion (yeah, with a “b” like in IHOb) social media impressions (that’s just crazy).3 Yeah, media coverage would be an understatement.3
As far as burger sold? That earned them a quadruple sales jump in burgers for that quarter.
Just a few samples of the media covering their stunt’s success:
CNBC: IHOP’s fake name change helped it sell 4 times more burgers
PR Week: Recipe for Success? IHOP says its IHOb stunt drove ‘strong business results’ in Q2.
Ad Week: Burger Sales Quadrupled After IHOP Became IHOB
USA Today: IHOP: Fake name change to IHOb to boost burger business was risk worth taking
The stunt turned out to be well worth it, as the pancake chain revived it when they introduced three new burgers the following year, even playing on the name change idea by christening the beefy new offerings “pancakes” (Okay, one of the burgers included a pancake so there’s that.)
They further flipped the name change narrative by introducing a “Bancake List” of those who tweeted negative comments and gave the offenders to chance to come off the list if they said something nice about IHOP. And if they couldn’t find the words, they could pick from a number of prepared funny ones and would receive a “token of the brand’s appreciation” for their time and trouble.4
In short, where they saw unexpected trouble peak over the horizon, they headed straight into the PR disaster storm, taking the problem and made it part of their corporate communications plan the following year.
Turning a mistake into an opportunity? IHOP proved it’s possible – like turning pancakes into hamburgers.
While IHOP managed to turn a potential disaster into a huge sales boost, unfortunately theirs is far from a typical story. In most cases when PR mistakes happen, it’s often because proper market research wasn’t done first to find out how the audience feel about you, their hot button issues, and their pain points – the critical data that informs every PR move you make.
Have a PR disaster on your horizon? Get ahead of it – give us call at 888-919-4034.
Wikipedia. “IHOP”, Page last updated 2 December 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IHOP.
Slotosch, Andreas. “5 Business Communication Failure Examples and How to Avoid Them.” Beekeeper, 8 October 2020, beekeeper.io/blog/3-internal-communication-failures-that-turned-into-pr-disasters/.
Taylor, Kate. “IHOP’s burger sales quadrupled after its controversial IHOb name change.” Business Insider, 2 August 2018, businessinsider.com/ihop-burger-sales-grew-with-ihob-name-change-2018-8?r=UK.
Levine, Barry. “IHOP resurrects controversial ‘IHOb’ name change, targets burger promo’s haters.” Marketing Dive, 4 June 2019, marketingdive.com/news/ihop-introduces-burgers-that-it-calls-pancakes/556094/.