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International House of Burgers? Really?

The marketing stunt was great, but the ending was a disappointment, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Restaurant Business

Was IHOP's rebranding a smart move? RB Executive Editor Jonathan Maze and Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo offer opposing points of view. For the alternate take, see Reality Check.

The Bottom Line

For a time this week I couldn’t get away from IHOP’s recent rebranding stunt.

Just about every media site on the planet talked about it. And I mean everyone. Even the music site Billboard got in on the action, and when I tuned into my local sports talk station, they were talking about the "International House of Burgers."

Suffice it to say, that’s a lot of attention. People haven’t talked about IHOP this much in a long time, and maybe ever. And I’ll admit, I played right along on Twitter.

In that sense, my colleague Peter Romeo is right: The marketing campaign was a success. That kind of attention can only be a good thing for a brand trying to break through the immense clutter that is the restaurant business, right?

Maybe not.

The IHOb campaign was the "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" of the restaurant marketing world. It was great, until the end.

When IHOP revealed that the “B” stood for “burgers,” it might as well have said that it stood for “boring.”

Photo courtesy of IHOP

For one thing, burgers are perhaps the most common menu item in the restaurant business. The largest restaurant chain in the world sells burgers. There’s an entire, growing sub-sector of fast-casual burger chains. There are casual-dining restaurant chains that specialize in burgers.

Brands such as A&W and Burger King and even the retail steak product Steak-Umm mocked the name change.

The typically biting commentary from Wendy’s probably said it best, however:

Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.

— Wendy's (@Wendys) June 11, 2018

I’m not the biggest fan of marketing stunts like this, mostly because they do little to advance a brand beyond simple attention-getting.

Often, these efforts get a lot of attention right away, and then people drift off quickly. For a while, Burger King was really good at this, getting attention for products like its low-calorie Satisfries, which sold well early on but were ultimately killed when sales fell.

Yet even I have to admit that the IHOb campaign did its job. Consumers legitimately thought the chain was changing its name and were curious about what the "B" stood for.

But it wasted the opportunity on a common product such as burgers.

I certainly understand why the chain wants to market its burgers. IHOP is already well known for its breakfast items and especially its pancakes. But it wants consumers to remember that it has other items, too, including burgers.

But I believe the company would have been better off pairing this campaign with a different product—say, bacon.

After all, some of the burgers that IHOP is selling feature bacon. The chain could have developed a BLT or a bacon-loaded breakfast sandwich and other products along with the burgers.

Tell me that you wouldn’t go out to eat at the International House of Bacon. You can’t.

Marketing campaigns that generate attention are good things. But when that attention comes with a tinge of annoyance, it can be a bad thing.

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