The following is a case study analysis I conducted in graduate school for the Digital Strategic Communications course in the University of Iowa's Master of Arts (M.A.) in Strategic Communication program.
The International House of Pancakes (IHOP), a family restaurant chain known for pancakes and breakfast dishes, flipped the script last summer when it made a dramatic name chain to promote a new line of burgers on its menu. In June 2018, IHOP announced the reversal of the final letter in its name: “IHOb” – “b” standing for “burgers.”[i] (Figure 1)
IHOb’s menu of seven new burgers attempted to challenge fast food classics like McDonald’s Big Mac with its own “Mega Monster” burger. “Everyone knows that IHOP makes world-famous pancakes, so we felt like the best way to convince them that we are as serious about our new line of Ultimate Steakburgers as we are about our pancakes was to change our name to IHOb,” said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for IHOb restaurants.i
The announcement set the Internet on fire. IHOP President Darren Rebelez said the company garnered “32.3 billion earned media impressions, 20,000 news articles,” and made them the “number two trending topic globally for Twitter, just behind the North Korea summit.”[ii]
Fast food chains weighed in on Twitter. Wendy’s, a national burger joint notorious for its aggressive tone on social media, tweeted the day of the announcement, “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard” and “Remember when you were like 7 and thought changing your name to Thunder BearSword would be super cool? Like that, but our cheeseburgers are still better.”[iii] Waffle House, a breakfast food chain, said in a tweet accompanying a copy of its burger menu, “Even though we serve delicious burgers... we know our roots.”[iv] Burger King, another fast food competitor, temporarily changed its name to “Pancake King” on Twitter.[v]
One month later, the company revealed the name change was simply a publicity stunt.[vi] (Figure 2) The name change followed IHOP’s 1.9 percent decline for same-restaurant sales in fiscal year 2017. Founded in 1958[vii], International House of Pancakes, LLC is a subsidiary of Dine Brands Global (NYSE: DIN), which is also the parent company Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar®.[viii] Although IHOb has been retired, the stunt netted unprecedented social media engagement for the 60th birthday of this pancake chain. IHOP’s pancake commitment has never been stronger and the burger menu will be sticking around, too.