Was the Flip a Flop?

By Jenna Barone

IHOP re-focused its marketing efforts from flipping pancakes to flipping burgers in hopes of earning a seat at the lunch and dinner table. In early June, IHOP announced its temporary name change to IHOb without revealing the altered acronym’s new meaning. A creative marketing stunt, the flipped P now reads as a lowercase b. A week later, social media erupted in chaos following the release of the mystery meaning. You guessed it—the B stands for burgers.

Corporate food chains responded to the name change with snarky, condescending remarks on social media. Whataburger, Chilis, Wendy’s, etc. ganged up on IHOP with an attitude of burger superiority, treating IHOP like a wannabe.

The IHOB phenomenon provided an excellent opportunity for corporate chain restaurants to partake in a bit of newsjacking. As a result, IHOP benefited from the conversation and awareness increased. But will the restaurant chain benefit from the letter flip, or was the marketing campaign a flop?

The engagement between chains added to the hype and excitement surrounding IHOB, a clear plus in terms of achieving awareness. But the attitudes present in chain restaurant reactions dented IHOP’s credibility despite its attempt to make witty comebacks.

Not to mention, IHOP’s response is a bit unoriginal. Anyone remember the fun, harmless banter between Pharrell Williams and Arby’s after the 2014 Grammys?

IHOP made a bold move in an effort earn respect as a restaurant serving more than just breakfast—and I respect its willingness to take on the risk. However, the social media attacks granted no favors in terms of changing the public’s perspective.

After the big reveal, RLF tweeted an article about the name change: “We can support #IHOB as long as @IHOB promises to keep serving pancakes.” As it turns out, many responded similarly with tweets about the name-change sparking pancake cravings among loyal customers. Though always meant as a joke, many also took the name change seriously and panicked about the potential loss of pancakes. So much so, that IHOP’s President Darren Rebelez made a statement to assure customers that the delicious buttermilk pancakes aren’t going anywhere.

In an attempt to spin the pancake reactions, IHOP’s tweets compared the seriousness of its burgers to the seriousness of its pancakes, even joking about its quest to “corner the market on circle foods.” But will pancake fanatics accept the new burgers at lunch and dinner with open arms? Will new customers be attracted to IHOP because of the new burger options?

As far as feedback on the actual taste of the burgers, I’ve encountered mixed reviews. A group of Orlando Sentinel reporters visited a nearby IHOP a couple weeks ago to decide for themselves. Though satisfied with the seven new steak burger options (classic cheeseburger, bacon burger, double-pattied monster burger, breakfast burger, barbecue burger, spicy burger, mushroom and swiss burger), they weren’t exactly pleased with the look or taste:

“Strip off the toppings, and you’re left with a lackluster, bland patty more suitable for a fast food spot not a sit-down restaurant. The thin patty never had a chance to remain the medium-temperature I requested, making the server’s earlier question pointless.”

On the other hand, IHOP has tweeted positive reviews and re-tweeted positive customer responses to the new burger lineup in the last couple of weeks.

IHOP says it’s happy with the early results of the campaign. Its Word of Mouth Score (a measurement of the number of people who talk about the restaurant chain with others) jumped from 11 percent to 30 percent within a week of the name-change announcement.

Though burger sales have increased, will a one-time curiosity translate to consistent burger-buyers? YouGov, a data polling firm, reported that recent rebranding efforts have not significantly increased the likelihood of consumers dining at IHOP according to its BrandIndex.

The buzz over IHOB came and went rather quickly, and it doesn’t look like IHOP will successfully sustain the momentum. I wouldn’t call the campaign a total flop, but it seems like the pancake (or burger) may have burned a little after the flip.