IHOP Reverts to Roots, Everyone Is Now Dumber
Try as we might, it’s hard to avoid the PR coups staged by many national restaurant chains in this age of shape-shifting Colonel Sanders, Wendy’s Twitter snark and Arby’s building a sculpture for Anime Expo out of sandwich boxes. The IHOP/IHOB media blitz begs a simple question: have branded PR stunts jumped the shark?
Tweeters clutched their digital pearls when IHOP announced it was changing its name to IHOB to highlight burger offerings, but it was quickly apparent that this was done in jest, rather than actually legally changing its name. A few weeks after the fact, are you more likely to visit an IHOP outside of breakfast/brunch hours? I am not.
Nothing against IHOP or its burgers, which I haven’t yet tried. Nate Erickson from Esquire says eating them on two separate occasions plunged him into a deep sadness. A representative excerpt: “The patty was thin and dry. The lettuce was sad. I'm ashamed to say I made it halfway through before a bottle of Heinz was called in. I didn't finish,” he said, noting that he loves IHOP and had fond memories hanging out in breakfast heaven during his college days.
Why go through all this effort and launch thousands of online hot takes for burgers when IHOP’s real appeal is, was and always will be hot cakes and their related accoutrements? Is any press still good press?
Tim Carman at The Washington Post had a similar review after grinding his way through an overly well-cooked Steakburger. “There is something almost hard-wired in me when I plop myself into such a booth: I want something sweet, sticky and stacked about four layers high,” he said. “Somehow, a burger can never taste as sweet in this setting.”
Analyzing IHOP’s PR gambit in hindsight, its leadership team probably should have ensured the Steakburgers were something worth writing home about before attracting such a bright spotlight.
It’s hard to get excited about burgers these days given their ubiquity. Whether I’m cooking at home or ordering from a booth, kobe, angus, medium rare, plant-based or filled with a greasy sphere of cheese like we do here in the Twin Cities (see: Juicy Lucy), the novelty of a good burger is now a study in diminishing returns. Rarity and elusiveness are the ultimate luxuries.
Even with newer breakfast daypart players like First Watch and Another Broken Egg, I would argue the breakfast arena is less saturated than burgers, so it’s curious IHOP expended this much PR gas to highlight its secondary offerings. That would be like Chick-fil-A hyping its fruit cups or Dairy Queen focusing on salads rather than sundaes.
Breakfast leadership is still up for grabs. This is America, so we know that whatever space is not entirely satisfied by Egg McMuffins and Grand Slams will eventually be blown out like every worthy category and product niche.
Perhaps writing this column proves the wisdom of IHOP’s marketing ploy, but now that the IHOB burger reviews are hitting the presses, it seems this strategy was aimed at the wrong target. Fred Rogers taught us how to handle situations like these: “It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters, it’s what we do with what we have.”