IHOP’s big “IHOb” reveal hit yesterday, to immediate derision across social media, and potentially worse, some confusion created among its most important audience: the consumer.

What did the “b” stand for? Burgers. The speed and wit with which some of the pancake (burger?) chain’s peers attacked was merciless:



With no one more vicious than Wendy’s…

Setting aside the current hullabaloo, it’s always tricky to comment on the final product of what is typically a long, (theoretically) strategic process of creating a campaign. But we have some questions. We can guess that the goal was to get people to think of IHOP as more than just a breakfast place, and they concluded that highlighting other menu offerings was the way to do that. OK, fine. But…


Make a mental list of all the different burger chains, and you’ll soon be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them: McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Red Robin, Shake Shack, Steak & Shake, Checkers, Sonic, White Castle, Hardee’s, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Wayback, Roy Roger’s, Fuddruckers, Smashburger, Johnny Rockets, Five Guys, Bareburger, etc., etc.

Now make a mental list all the different pancake chains.

There’s only one. IHOP owns the leadership position in pancakes from an unassailable peak, with no challenger coming close. IHOP means pancakes. They may offer other things on the menu, but they are known for one thing. Of course they want to grow their business, and I’m sure they’ve asked themselves just how far they could expand pancakes. If they needed to grow their lunch and dinner traffic, they could have taken the tack of McDonald’s All Day Breakfast campaign, and celebrated pancakes as a 24/7 indulgence. Who says you can’t have pancakes for dinner? Pulled pork over sweet corn cakes: why not? Just as Arby’s was able to double-down on meat, IHOP could have doubled down on pancakes.

Or they could have showcased other menu items through a “pancakes + _____” campaign. “Yes, you can have that burger/salad/pasta, but make sure you leave room for pancakes for dessert.” Everything is, actually, better with pancakes, I can say from years of experience.

Instead, they chose to plant a very large flag into the immensely crowded, competitive burger-scape. Worse, to the casual consumer, it may seem as though they are abandoning their flagship product, pancakes—which they own, heart and soul—for a new, untested product.(The change to IHOb is only temporary).

Herein lies the potential problem. There is no doubt that the campaign will make a short term splash, fueled by curiosity, but what is the longer term impact? By confusing the consumer as to what you stand for, you put your brand equity at risk. Instead of staying true to what has made them a popular, massively successful household name over the last 50-plus years, International House of Pancakes Burgers is venturing into shark (and Wendy’s) infested waters.