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Disruption with a Side of Fries

On June 11th, a global phenomenon occurred. No, it wasn’t the 2018 World Cup. The International House of Pancakes, the establishment that has served as my personal source for too many early morning (read: ‘late night’) short stacks of pancakes, had changed their name to IHOb. Surely, you caught wind of this at the start of summer, unless you consume no trace of modern media and still refer to ‘#’ as ‘pound’. How could one not be aware? A week before launch, IHOP or IHOb deployed a fairly robust, social-awareness teaser campaign that effectively toed the line between April 1st-levels of skepticism and authentic curiosity.

As a marketer, I was intrigued. A restaurant as synonymous with breakfast as any other had changed their name, their logo, their identity—to the International House of Burgers. Was this insane or genius? Or both? Sure, IHOP has always served burgers, but I don’t know how high it was on the public’s list of lunch options. So, they ‘rebranded’ to drive consideration for a day-part that has doomed casual dining across the country. ‘That’s a bold strategy, Cotton.’ Thing is, it kind of worked out for them. IHOb was everywhere, disrupting every social platform and generating millions of organic, digital impressions. Forbes, AdAge, Buzzfeed, Reddit…you get it. Hell, if the Wendy’s Twitter is roasting you, you’re at least doing something ( , ) right?

As a creative, I was envious. I think some loyal consumers lost their mind at first, but this month-long stunt dominated headlines. New menus were designed and printed, a national broadcast spot was produced, operational changes occurred in stores to support marketing, specific DMA’s saw updated storefront signs and experiential activations. The whole shebang! Here was a major national brand, albeit one which had lost some relevancy in the current cultural landscape, that was willing to take a creative risk. In this industry, I’ve learned that building client trust takes time. You’ve got to treat her right and get to know her, BEFORE you show her all of the weird shit in your house. And honestly, this was probably the result of a strong client-agency relationship built on creative experience, exceptional service, and insightful strategy. But damn if I wasn’t wishing I had a crack at a project like this. Following the multi-media bombardment, an IHOb burger was the only thing on my mind. I had to see for myself.

As a foodie, I wasn’t mad, I was disappointed. Not going to lie, I wanted to try one of those burgers. Partly, because I have an indulgent personality with a lack of dietary discipline, but also because I wanted to support the marketing efforts and risks taken by peers in my industry. This was what successful marketing looked like, and my consideration was authentic. So I dragged a friend along under the guise I would pick up the tab, and we took a lunch break adventure to the closest IHOb. However my experience probably mimicked what everyone, who declined to partake, had imagined. The burger looked nothing like what I was expecting, lacked any substantial hint of flavor, and resulted in what can best be described as internal destruction. Maybe Wendy’s was right, ‘stick to pancakes.’

Such is advertising though, I suppose. Our jobs are to influence consumers’ perceptions with believable, tangible benefits of a product or service. This deodorant will get you laid, a new toothpaste that brightens your teeth, burgers worthy of global recognition. Truth is, whether or not IHOP delivered on their marketing ‘promise’, their campaign stunt created consideration and generated cultural media relevancy. They won. In the time since, IHOP has ridden the momentum into a $0.60 pancake promotion for their 60th Anniversary and returned the brand to the acronym that made the restaurant famous. Looking pretty good, for 60. IHOP still serves pancakes, I probably still won’t go back for lunch, and we’re still talking about the brand! Or, maybe it’s just me.

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