For habitués of The International House of Pancakes—formerly known as IHOP—the chain has switched its name back from IHOB, following a June promotion of its burger capabilities.
What’s the point, you may ask. Did they sell a lot of burgers? Did they change any minds about why one should go to IHOP for a memorable dining experience?
The pancake chain began revamping its burgers more than a year ago, IHOP's president, Darren Rebelez, told Business Insider, as it has tried to boost sales outside breakfast.
The last time I was in an IHOP/HOB was around midnight on Christmas Eve, 2010. It was snowing in Atlanta, and I had just left the pet hospital after taking my cat in for emergency treatment. I had to leave him overnight for observation.
I missed an earlier invitation to dine with my neighbors, and I was hungry enough to eat the ass out of a dead rhinoceros, as Bill Paxton put it so colorfully in the movie, “Apollo 13.”
I whipped my SUV into IHOP’s parking lot, then took a table inside among a collection of people who looked like they had come from a joint-venture holiday party between The Grand Ole Opry and the House of Blues.
The omelet was unmemorable, the service terrible, and I left there vowing never to set foot in an IHOP/HOB again.
Did the recent IHOB burger campaign change my mind and light up an unquenchable craving for an IHOB burger over the nine thousand other offerings out there?
No matter, because now pancakes are back at IHOP/HOB:
"We're giving away 60¢ short stacks on July 17 from 7a-7p for IHOP's 60th birthday. That's right, IHOP! We'd never turn our back on pancakes (except for that time we faked it to promote our new burgers)," the chain posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, there it is, folks: The International House of Everything—IHOE—has admitted to millions of potential customers that they “faked it.” What else are they faking?
Is this the way to do branding, literally twisting an image cultivated over the past sixty years of American restaurant history? Would McDonald’s change its name to Mickey D’s for a month to promote a new menu? Or ballyhoo a corporate name switch to McWraps to get people thinking beyond the traditional hamburger? I don’t think so.
For a short-term awareness hit, couldn’t IHOP have simply put a burger between two thick pancakes and call it a Panburger? It worked with Krispy Kreme donuts a decade ago, and bacon-cheese-donut burgers have proliferated around the country.
Branding is a disciplined process that is usually practiced over years, decades, even centuries, in the case of Guinness Brewery. Branding isn’t a publicity stunt that lasts a month, and it isn’t a success because the number of adults talking about your brand increased from 19 percent to 30 percent, or you lit up social media for a week. Thirty percent is still lousy, and all you’ve done is confuse people about what you are in business to deliver.
So, PR people, if your CEO gets talked into a move like IHOP’s by the marketing department, or worse, has a brainstorm while sailing in the Caribbean and gets the marketing department to buy into it, what do you do?
Talk him or her out of it. Point to all the companies that have frittered away their valuable brand assets by overexpanding like GE, overextending like Harley Davidson, or trying to occupy two market positions at once—as Home Depot did ten years ago with HD Supply—and tell him that there is a special place in hell for CEOs who destroy trusted brands through poor decisions. Talk about the potential impacts on reputation, and possibly even the stock price. The stock price always gets to CEOs, as it usually represents a major portion of their personal wealth.
That should do it. If it doesn’t, start looking for another job, because either your advice isn’t valued or someone else has won, and they will be looking to do you in.
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications, a corporate communications and marketing consultancy, and author of "Carbon Man," a novel about greed.