On June 4, fast food chain IHOP announced it would be changing its name to IHOb, sending social media into mass speculation over what the new letter would stand for. An obvious choice: breakfast. Less obvious? Biscuits. A seemingly poor choice? Burgers, which is what the newly rebranded IHOb revealed itself as. The Internet was steeped in controversy and criticism, which is exactly what IHOP wanted.
Times have been hard for IHOP. In 2017, the chain closed 23 locations and is expected to close 30 to 40 additional ones this year. It needed to freshen its image, reach out to a new league of consumers: millennials.
“IHOb” looked like the result of a marketing team that was really bad at its job — wouldn’t it be business suicide to enter into competition with the fleet of established burger joints? — but was instead the efforts of a marketing team that knew how to get noticed in the social media age. Celebrities tweeted about it, news anchors pondered it. Suddenly, everyone was talking about a chain that had been sliding in popularity, and everyone was reminded they served breakfast and burgers. Seriously. Practically everyone. The video had been watched over six million times before the name was announced. Almost 39,000 people took the Twitter survey guessing what the “b” might stand for.
The brand revealed that the name change was temporary, a stunt to draw attention to their burgers, an oft-forgotten menu offering since the brand’s launch in 1958. While IHOP might have been lying about a rebrand, the social media stats certainly don’t lie about the hoax’s success. In fact, on July 9 — only a month after the initial hoax — IHOb tweeted out how they would be giving away $0.60 pancakes to celebrate the restaurant’s 60th anniversary. Confused? Yeah, so are we.
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) pic.twitter.com/KsbkMJhKuf
— IHOP (@IHOP) July 9, 2018
But IHOP — er, IHOb — owned the whole hoax thing in grand fashion with their execution of the whole stunt. Plus, they aren’t the only brand that has relied on stunts as a vehicle for viral marketing. Other companies have opted for these campaigns in the past — to mixed results.
The “Man In The Jacket”
In 2009, the internet became captivated by the story of Heidi Clarke, a young woman who posted a YouTube video saying she had met her soul mate at a café in Sydney, Australia but had been left with his jacket, but no contact details. She appealed to the public to help her find him, though what the public found out instead was that Heidi Clarke didn’t exist. She was part of an Australian marketing campaign for Witchery, a clothing company that wanted to promote its new line of men’s outerwear. The ploy backfired, with many feeling it had violated the public’s trust.
Evan Langoria’s Catch
When he saved someone from a rampant fly ball, Evan Longoria proved he was not just a baseball superhero, but a hero. During an interview in 2011, as a ball hurtled towards the reporter, Longoria caught it barehanded in a video that now has over 10 million views. However, the impressive stunt turned out to be the brainchild of shaving company Gillette’s marketing team. Though the brand connection is not entirely clear in the video, it is now associated with the impressive, if staged, viral video.
The “Miracle Machine”
In 2014, two wine industry leaders announced the news that vinos have long dreamt of hearing: a machine that turns water into wine within three days. The contraption was an instant hit, with 7,000 people signing up to get new information about the Kickstarter campaign. Hundreds of outlets, including the ABC News and TIME, covered it. Over 200,000 people watched the promotional video. A few weeks later, it was revealed to be a marketing ploy to draw attention to Wine to Water, a charity project that aims to bring clean water to people around the world. While the charity acknowledged it put its reputation on the line for the cause, it succeeded in raising awareness of how many people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water.
Lead image via YouTube