Will ‘IHOb’ Publicity Stunt Expand IHOP Visits Beyond Breakfast?

"Let's be truthful, the general public wasn't talking about IHOP, but now they are," says ShopAdvisor's Bill McLaughlin. "It's interesting that they are still revealing details in pieces to keep the interest up."

After teasing a fake name change to “IHOb,” which entailed a week of asking social media users to guess what the “b” stood for, IHOP’s Monday reveal of its new burger menu appeared to be tailor-made to drive attention on Twitter.

As of Monday, IHOP said that 30,000 people speculating what the “b” might stand for, guessing everything from bacon to brunch to bananas.

To demonstrate IHOP is as serious about burgers as it is about pancakes, it flipped the “p” to a “b” in their iconic name “for the time being,” including its Twitter handle. The promotion, crafted by agency Droga5, also has the flagship IHOP restaurant in Hollywood, CA, being “completely re-burgered.” Elsewhere, IHOP’s new “Ultimate Steakburgers” are available with unlimited fries and a drink starting at $6.99 at participating locations.

In the meantime, IHOP’s casual dining as well as QSR burger-centric rivals had some fun with counter-tweets, as Burger King rebranded its Twitter handle as Pancake King, while Whataburger posted a box of pancake mix on Instagram.

Elsewhere, Wendy’s trolled IHOP with snarky comments like “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.” The A&W Restaurant chain simply played up some consumers’ confusion about the whole thing.

Burger King got into the act, as QSRs joined the social media frenzy over ‘IHOb’

Competing For ‘Share Of Stomach’

While it’s all fun, can the social media effort translate to actual visits for IHOP and generate interest beyond breakfast?

“As it relates ‘IHOb,’ I will say that they’ve done a great job at creating anticipation for what it was all about,” says Bill McLaughlin, SVP Sales & Marketing at ShopAdvisor. “That was a well executed communication strategy. Let’s be truthful, the general public wasn’t talking about IHOP, but now they are. It’s interesting that they are still revealing details in pieces to keep the interest up.

“Now the question is can that be translated in to bringing customer into the restaurants for those menu items and beyond,” McLaughlin adds. “Certainly there will be ongoing marketing campaigns to attract consumers with offers to get them into the restaurants. I would imagine they’ll have an integrated mix of mobile proximity marketing, traditional media and physical location promotions.”

IHOP’s move represents the intensifying competition in all regions for consumers’ “share of stomach,” says  Lee Zucker, Head of Industry/GM - Food Services for Yext (full disclosure: Yext owns GeoMarketing. More details on that relationship here), who ties it to a widening of the “QSR Breakfast Wars” over the past decade.

“While the IHOb stunt is a great campaign for attention, it’s very clear that they’re expanding their menu (and perceived meal options) in order to get traffic for lunch and dinner,” Zucker says. “We saw this with the breakfast boom in the QSR space where same store sales were on the decline, but adding a high margin meal period could help turn the downturn upside down.”

Considering that social media has given deeper meaning to the ephemeral nature of marketing programs, the attention will die quickly. IHOP (or IHOb) will still need to be customers where and how they’re looking for information about restaurants, Zucker notes.

“70 percent of consumers are searching for a cuisine type or food item, not by a restaurant name,” Zucker says. “How does IHOb guarantee that they’re appearing in search for ‘burgers near me’ or ‘lunch open now’ if those are the periods they’re optimizing for to attract diners?

“If somebody were to make a branded search during this campaign, does Google know where the nearest IHOb is located or is Google still ranking for IHOP? If IHOb is not optimizing for the ways people interact with restaurants at their moments of intent, then they’re going to lose high intent traffic at the bottom of the funnel after spending (likely millions) on this campaign.”

The new burger-centric “IHOb’ menu

What IHOb’s ‘b’ Actually Means

In a sense, IHOP’s promotion of its burger menu carries some risks. For one thing, it could dilute its strength as a breakfast specialist. Plus, as Zucker’s Yext colleague, David “Rev” Ciancio, director for Industry Insights, notes the burger space is already pretty crowded.

“Shouldn’t they have gone with ‘bacon’ or the more obvious ‘breakfast?’ Those are great questions and ones that logically make sense given the brand’s space in the market place. It’s actually a really smart idea,” Ciancio says.

“Their share of stomach is breakfast, and most directly, pancakes,” he adds. “But IHOP locations are open for many day parts. You can eat there for lunch, dinner, late night and all parts in between.While we all might agree that breakfast for dinner is awesome, how often do you actually do it? This is a promotion, not a rebrand. They’re trying to drive incremental revenue during other day parts. It’s a great way for IHOP to get our attention and say ‘Hey, we’re not just for pancakes!'”

In that sense, IHOb’s “b” not just “burgers.” The real message here is that the 60-year-old casual dining chain’s 1,400-plus U.S. locations wants to be known beyond breakfast.

But the trick comes with making the idea stick long after IHOb campaign ends.

“If IHOb wants to drive more traffic during lunch and dinner, they can optimize this by day-parting their brand,” Zucker says. “The first step to doing that is online and their menu is a core competency of that. I’m not just talking about third party services, but owned properties as well. How do they day-part their website, location pages, etc. so that no only are they ranking for lunch, dinner, burgers, etc., but they give the experience that they’re actually as serious as their campaign says they are about burgers and not just pancakes and breakfast?”