The Simple Genius of IHOP’s Fake Name Change

Brian Brewington
Jul 25, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo Credit: www.harvardsquare.com

The day I saw IHOP announce they were “changing their name” and replacing the P with a B, I knew they were both onto and up to something.

Why I follow IHOP on Twitter, is another story entirely and probably involves some really high grade marijuana and my grotesque love affair with food.

While part of me hoped the B stood for either bacon or brownies, having read books such as Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me I’m Lying and James Altucher’s Reinvent Yourself, I saw what was going on from the moment I read the announcement.

Catch anyone in the marketing or advertising industry after they’ve had a drink or two or who is just being honest because they’re not at work and they’ll tell you — it all basically comes back to bullshitting your way into a good story. One that gets people talking because, as those in advertising who know what they’re doing will tell you, few tools serve them in their purpose and careers like word of mouth does.

You can go broke spending money on bundles of flyers and billboards but if it isn’t catching people’s attention and boldly bombarding it’s way into their conversations, what good is it really?

As both books I mentioned above and IHOP’s creative marketing scheme itself have made a strong case for, it doesn’t necessarily take money to get people talking, especially in the day and age we live in.

IHOP itself, got the ball rolling with a single tweet — and let all of us do the rest, more or less. Sending that tweet didn’t have to cost them a dime, although I’m sure they spent the money on the promotional option that allowed them to reach as wide of an audience as possible. But even that would have cost them a fraction of the price as a single billboard, over a 30 day period.

Within a 2 week period after announcing the name change, without revealing what the B stood for, there were a total of 2.8 million mentions of IHOP and IHOB on Twitter.

Including this gem from Wendy’s, the old fashioned burger chain.

Any press is good press. When your newfound competition is inadvertently advertising for you, you’ve done something right.

IHOP didn’t go about needlessly spending the money to change the P’s on their signs to B’s — because they didn’t have to — and mainly because they knew they never intended on actually changing the name.

When it was announced the B stood for burgers, all it was doing was highlighting an American staple that had been on their menu since the early 1950’s. Nothing had changed inside IHOP. Just breakfast, business and burgers, as usual.

On social media though, people were losing their collective, burger loving minds. IHOP had hit a nerve, in the sweetest of spots. The one that gets people of every demographic talking. Not just on Twitter and Facebook but at the water cooler and in dive bars everywhere throughout the country. One where your prospective and potential customers, do most of your work for you, without even realizing it.

As great as getting people talking is for business, if they don’t show up for burgers, pancakes or anything else on the menu, having once trended on Twitter won’t matter. So did IHOP’s creative marketing ploy translate to sales?

In the short term, it very much has. AdAge.com reported the chain is selling from 4 to 7 times as many burgers as they were and that revenues are up for the restaurant chain as a whole for the first time in seven sales quarters. Though plenty of people are coming in for the burgers — if only out of curiosity — pancake sales themselves are up at most locations as well.

IHOP knew another 7 quarters without an increase in sales as a company was not sustainable and that it had to do something to get people talking. It did it and did it well, with spending very little out of pocket to do it. Most importantly, the firestorm they created on social media translated to actual sales and both breakfast as well as their burger business is booming.

Companies, corporations and marketing executives everywhere could and should take a lesson from IHOP and the name change that never was.

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