Burger Backlash: Why People Were So Upset With IHOb

If you have an Internet connection, it is virtually impossible that you missed last week’s latest brand-related uproar. After a week of teasing, the venerable International House of Pancakes announced that it would be changing its name to IHOb, with the “b” standing for “burgers.”

The backlash was immediate, with thousands of people taking to various social platforms to gnash their teeth, rend their clothing and demand to know why a place famous for its breakfast food would suddenly change its focus to burgers. IHOP – excuse me, IHOb – executives were forced to quickly clarify that the change was merely a temporary one and was intended to promote a new line of “premium” burgers. But once the outrage train has left the station, there’s no going back, and the pile-on continued with national brands getting in on the action.

 

 

 

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Everyday people also registered their confusion, even after learning the change was temporary.

 

 

 

You, along with many other people, may be wondering why there was such an uproar over a temporary name change. The simplest explanation is that the Internet feeds on outrage. Even the smallest missteps or moments of weakness are seized upon and magnified hundreds of times over by indignant consumers. However, there are a few quick additional lessons brands should keep in mind when attempting a marketing stunt like this.

  1. If you are a classic brand, never underestimate nostalgia. IHOP’s food isn’t even that great, but it holds a special place in the hearts of millions of Americans. Whether it was stopping in for breakfast on a road trip or grabbing pancakes at midnight with your friends when you were too old to spend weekend nights at home but too young to go to bars, IHOP was always a consistent and comforting presence. Any change to that image is bound to upset people.
  2. The burger world is a crowded space. As demonstrated by many of the mocking responses on Twitter, there are plenty of established burger brands ready to pounce on any sign of weakness. And I feel safe in saying that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who makes an effort to go to IHOP for anything but breakfast food. The latter half of the menu is like the dark area of the savannah in “The Lion King” – you must never go there, Simba.

For many, this new focus on burgers did nothing but draw attention to the fact that IHOP has not historically made good burgers. Their marketing people are writing checks that, hopefully, their cooks can cash.

To be fair to IHOb and their marketing team, they are reporting a significant increase in their burger sales since the announcement, demonstrating that such a huge gamble can potentially pay off for your brand – if your skin is thick enough to handle the inevitable skewering.

However, a temporary increase in sales does not automatically mean this campaign was a success. The real test will be to see if the strong sales continue once the novelty has worn off. Unless this tactic is part of a larger strategic brand revitalization plan, IHOb will have boxed itself into a corner with this move, and its eventual reversion to its old name and brand will feel anticlimactic. Trading in its brand equity for a short-term boost in sales could be a sign of bigger troubles ahead.

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Lisa Umar
Lisa began her career as a China analyst in Washington, D.C., before moving to Phoenix to attend the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Since then, she has gained experience in account service, project management, branding, media placement and campaign strategy. Her clients have ranged from resorts to transportation companies and nonprofit organizations, as well as both B2C and B2B companies. She holds a dual B.A. in international affairs and Asian studies from George Washington University, as well as a master’s degree in international marketing from Thunderbird.

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