International House of Brilliance

Rising burgers, falling pancakes and the story behind IHOP’s marketing masterpiece

This post originally appeared in Adweek.

IHOP has a had a rough past few years. Their sales have fallen, their brand awareness has declined, and ever-changing diet trends are threatening IHOP’s core offering. They needed to do something to get people back into their restaurants, and their main menu staple wasn’t driving people to their doors.

Like many failing brands, IHOP knew it needed to do something big to turn itself around.

It started with a tweet. On June 11th, IHOP tweeted and announced that the brand was changing its name to IHOb and that everyone had to wait to find out what the “b” stood for. The delay between the name change announcement and the reveal of what the “b” stood for led to days of speculation on social media before the brand unexpectedly announced that the “b” stood for burgers.

While the “burgers” reveal left a lot of people confused, IHOP accomplished exactly what they were after: drawing attention to an increasingly popular non-breakfast item that’s always been on their menu.

So why did IHOP’s creative move make so much sense? We analyzed the online conversation about the brand (as well as their menu items and industry trends) to uncover three reasons this move may go down in marketing textbooks:

  • Flattening pancake love
  • The rise of burgers
  • IHOP’s changing cultural identity

Hotcakes Going Cold

IHOP’s brand awareness on social media has been steadily declining for years. The brand’s current share of voice on Twitter is about ⅓ of what it was five years ago. People aren’t talking about their brand and IHOP knows their popularity has suffered.

IHOP knew they needed a big campaign to build brand buzz. Should they focus on their most famous menu item to remind people what they love about their restaurant? Actually, no: Pancake popularity has suffered over the years as restaurant-goers interests have shifted.

While the decline of the pancake’s popularity isn’t as severe as IHOP’s, it has been dipping for years, despite a slight uptick recently. But there’s no denying the general decline. Although pancake popularity grows annually during National Pancake Day, average consumer interest in pancakes has fallen about 20% since 2010. A pancake-focused marketing campaign focused on a declining food wouldn’t revitalize consumer interest in IHOP.

What IHOP needed to do was showcase something else on their menu; a food that is on the rise. So where could the brand turn?

But IHOP knew the general rise in burger interest wouldn’t be enough to save them. They needed to actually do something to capitalize on the growing burger trend. The truth was, despite having burgers on their menu, the brand was not associated with the item. Historically, people weren’t discussing burgers when they were talking about IHOP.

By “changing their name” to IHOb and announcing the “b” stands for burgers, was a shrewd way for the brand to gain attention organically, and use it to highlight its new line of burgers. But did it work? Did the sleight of hand actually help IHOP generate brand buzz while simultaneously connecting its brand with burgers?

Social Media Home Run

Time will tell is the stunt will actually translate to sales, but there is absolutely no denying that, in theory, the campaign was incredibly successful. Consumer conversations show that IHOP popularity has skyrocketed since the announcement, turning the brand into a trending topic.

But buzz was only half of the goal. Did the campaign actually change consumer connections for the brand?

IHOP succeeded in getting people to talk about their burgers, and now can hope that the word of mouth is enough to get the customers in their doors. By distancing themselves from their original brand, they can revitalize their customer base and get people to order a menu item they’ve always had but rarely sold.

The campaign got people talking about IHOP again, easily eclipsing the brand’s average social conversation volume and establishing a new high watermark for the last several years.

With AI-Powered Consumer Insights, companies can build similar marketing campaigns to IHOP’s, as online conversation uncover consumer trends and can influence how you build, or rebuild, a brand.

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