The American Burger Wars

June 13, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

Who needs pancakes when you can also have burgers made from all natural black angus beef and topped with things like a fried egg or bacon or onion rings (or all three?!)?

Well, this is the question that IHOP, otherwise knows as the International House of Pancakes, is asking us.

Just last week, IHOP began teasing us with a social campaign that asked fans to guess what a flip of the “p” into a “b” could possibly mean.

In between guesses of “bacon,” “breakfast,” and “biscuits,” everyone was basically just like this the whole time.


Then, two days ago, it became official.

IHOP was turning into IHOB as a brand stunt to push its new line of “Ultimate Steakburgers.”

Wait, what? Queue the record scratch.  

This is what captured our minutes. Here’s why:

IHOP/B has us scratching our heads a little.

As with most reviews, we’re going to start with the positive. The brand and its Droga5 creative is definitely fun, got people engaged at a super high level and didn’t hold back. Heck, they didn’t just close down their Twitter and totally switch it all over.

It had ACTUAL CRANES come in to locations and remove the signage. That’s commitment and when pulling brand stunts, you either go big or go home. See, the word “stunt” teeters on the line of “wow” and “oh, that’s it?”

So all in all, we applaud the real effort that went into making this a complete transformation even if it’s only meant to be temporary.

However, the next four words are where this gets tricky.

Brand awareness.

Brand equity.

Let’s start with the former: brand awareness.

You can’t deny that people are talking about it. People still understand that it’s IHOP and they were definitely curious to say the least.

However a name change is kind of heavy! Think about it. A brand’s name is a big part of how someone identifies the brand and identifies with the brand. If the brand is changing its name, even temporarily, what’s to say it won’t later be extended to “IHOD – International House of Dessert” or “IHOC – International House of Cheese”?

While we’re not here to sh*t all over IHOP’s fun, it seemed like a fairly random decision.

Speaking of, let’s think of it from a design point of view. Lionel Wong, Creative Director of Church+State, weighs in:

“It almost seemed like an April Fool’s joke. Flipping the letter didn’t seem serious,” he explained. “There should be a strategy behind changing your entire offering.”

Sure, we weren’t in the room and we didn’t see or receive the brief. But, we think there could have been a stronger play in this regard. See below:

Ok, ok. Now for Brand Equity. You know, the stuff that talks about how people develop a perception of the brand’s value.

Obviously this campaign was created with tremendous positive intent. Yet, this didn’t stop the OG burger brands from roasting IHOP to its very last burger patty.

Even Netflix got involved, sheesh.

Brands going at each other on social isn’t new. Certainly, Wendy’s knows how to do that well. But the fact that so many brands openly mocked IHOP for its IHOB decision is pretty telling.

To be fair, this isn’t going to all of a sudden turn IHOP fans against the chain. Not to mention, their burgers have actually received positive reviews from fans on social. The point however is that all the other brands’ quips took away from IHOP’s moment. It can certainly be argued that the popcorn eating while watching the likes of Burger King and Wendy’s serve up some serious clapbacks took precedence over the new menu addition at IHOP.

So, thinking of pulling a stunt?

Here’s what we’d recommend:

  1. Make it robust.
  2. Make it meaningful.  
  3. Make it ownable.

We would not by any means call this a total fail, but what could have been a really fun moment ended up feeling a little lost in the bigger narrative. Plus, we’ve been saying IHOP for life. The switch in diction from adding a “b” is really tripping us up.

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?

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