By now you’ve heard the buzz about the International House of Pancakes and their big announcement. They are changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. They made the announcement and asked us to guess what the “b” meant.
The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”
I could wrap my head around that. I love their Colorado Omelette. They have waffles, French Toast, and crepes too. Pancakes are out of favor because of all the low carb diets. That would make sense.
Heck, I could even have seen it if this was just a marketing gimmick and the “b” was going to stand for bacon. Bacon is trendy and popular right now.
But then in a “Hey, New Coke, hold my beer,” moment they announced the “b” stands for “burgers.”
Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?
First, let me reassure you that they are not actually changing their name. They are doing some temporary signs and making a big stink about it through the media. In one way, it has worked. We’re all talking about them. In another way, they have definitely brought attention to the fact they have burgers on their menu (and have for some time).
But here’s something worth thinking about when it comes to branding. The vast majority of people were going with either breakfast or bacon because that is what the restaurant is known for. That is IHOP’s reputation, which by extension is the restaurant’s brand. No matter how many viral campaigns like this, they will neither change that perception nor ever be known as the burger joint. As much as this campaign has gone viral, it isn’t likely to get too many new customers going to IHOP that weren’t going already. In fact, it might drive some customers away who think they have stopped selling pancakes.
Not only was this campaign confusing to a lot of people, trying to be known as the burger joint is probably the worst arena to enter. It is already crowded with all the fast food joints, the Red Robins, the Inn & Outs, and a slew of other players. IHOP owns the pancake title. Hands down. They own it better than Coke owns Pepsi. Yet Coke tried the exact same tactic with New Coke and watched it become the poster child for failed marketing campaigns.
I know some of why they did it. It is tough being the frontrunner. It is tough getting people excited about your pancakes when you already own the category (and pancakes are not quite as popular as before). The people at IHOP saw this campaign as a brand-extension, a way to be known for more than pancakes. Unfortunately, there was a better way to do that.
Saying that you are known for burgers when you aren’t won’t work. Simply saying your burgers are great won’t change anyone’s mind, either. Having taste-tests won’t move the needle much (or Pepsi would have overtaken Coke during the Pepsi Challenge campaign). But asking your tribe, the people who already love IHOP for your breakfasts, to try a burger next time they are in, might get a few people to switch. Speaking to the people who love IHOPs for being open 24 hours (in certain locations) and reminding them you have more than breakfast might get a few people to try the burgers. Offering small sliders as a side with the pancakes (there’s a little surprise and delight for you), would be far more effective in getting burgers into everyone’s minds.
Then if your burgers really are good, people will talk. That’s the kind of talk that moves the needle. Right now people like me are talking in the wrong direction.
Right now the talk isn’t even about whether the burgers are any good or not. Most of the talk is about what the heck were they thinking? That doesn’t help the brand one bit.
The lesson in all this is simple. If you are known for something already, don’t confuse people by trying to be known for something else. Instead embrace it, amplify it, and become it so fully that no one will know anyone else but you in that category.
There is only one house of pancakes.
There is only one waffle house.
There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.
When you can be the only one, be the only one, and be happy with that.
PS Yes, there are thousands of great breakfast restaurants including some regional chains and plenty of local joints, but in the national scheme of things, no matter where you go, if someone is asked to name a pancake joint, IHOP will be at or near the top of that list. That’s the power of their brand and the source around which the rest of the chain revolves. Move away from that and the brand will falter.
PPS Marketing and advertising cannot change your reputation for the better. Only actions will do that. Confusing people or trying to get them to believe something other than what they already believe hurts the brand more than it helps because it erodes more confidence away from what people already believe. Telling people their old Coke they’ve drunk for years doesn’t taste good (even though it was the best seller by a wide margin) wasn’t a smart move. This move by IHOP stands right beside that.
PPPS You’ve heard it said there is no such thing as bad PR. That statement is wrong. Don’t believe it.