636643202369234590-VPC-IHOP-BURGER-THUMB-DESK.jpg
thumbnail
.

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated Darren Rebelez's title.

IHOP spoon-fed the world a short explanation for why it underwent a fake name change last month, when it briefly called itself IHOb.

“We take our burgers as seriously as our pancakes,” it said, explaining why it substituted a "b" for burgers for the "P" for pancakes in its name.

But while its president has no doubts, the company has yet to disclose whether its gambit, which promoted its lunch and dinner business, enhanced its bottom line.

Five weeks after the promotion, IHOP President Darren Rebelez was candid about the reasons behind the shift in an interview.

The company has not been as popular with the lunch and dinner crowds, even though it's open 24/7. No surprise there: IHOP is a shortened version of the original name, the International House of Pancakes.

“We just didn’t put the focus on” lunch and dinner “that we needed to,” Rebelez said. 

More than half of IHOP’s sales totals come from breakfast, analysts say. For sales from dinner, that number is 16 percent. 

To remedy this, IHOP decided to "go fish where the fish are,” Rebelez said. And the rest was history. From a tweet flipping the "P" with a "b" on June 4 to officially shifting to IHOb the following week, IHOP launched its burger offensive.

Burgers are the most-ordered entrée in restaurants nationwide, according to the food chain’s president, and IHOP opportunistically hopped onto the meaty item’s popularity wave.

This marketing campaign is neither IHOP’s first time selling burgers nor its first attempt at shifting consumers’ focus to dinner items. The company has sold hamburgers since its conception 60 years ago, and it has previously tried promotions and menu switches to cater to a nonbreakfast crowd, according to Raymond James analyst Brian Vaccaro.

Past marketing campaigns did not generate the same level of buzz, though. Rebelez said that for IHOP to successfully double down on lunch and dinner audiences, it needed to get people to think of IHOP as a “player in the burger business.”

IHOP’s efforts did not go unnoticed. The social media campaign received more than 30 billion media impressions and was the topic of 20,000 news stories, according to Rebelez.

And, according to YouGov, which tracks the perception of more than 1,500 brands daily through its BrandIndex, IHOP’s Word of Mouth score rose from 19 percent to 30 percent in the week following its announcement.

With IHOP's latest earnings still unreported, the jury is out on whether the marketing blitz will bring financial gain.

Analysts had varying speculations on the success of the campaign.

Stephen Anderson, an analyst for the Maxim Group, said IHOP has made itself a topic of conversation more effectively than ever before – a move which he thinks will bear fruit for the company's sales of nonbreakfast items.

Some companies have succeeded in the following quarter after experimenting with a name change to highlight a different menu item, according to Anderson. Pizza Hut temporarily transformed into Pasta Hut nearly a decade ago in the United Kingdom. In the following 12 months after they used that name, Anderson said sales increased more than 1 percent.

Anderson also noted that IHOP’s emphasis on burgers coincides nicely with the recent launch of its national delivery service, as burgers “tend to travel well.”

Dan Hill, CEO of Hill Impact, said he is unsure if the move would result in increased sales. However, he thinks it is “misplaced” to assume increased conversation will result in a greater windfall for IHOP.

Regardless of the economic result, Hill said he disliked the campaign due to how it misled customers and stakeholders alike into believing the company was changing its name. IHOP told USA TODAY that the name change was temporary before the launch on June 11.

“Any marketing ploy that is based on dishonesty says something about your culture,” Hill said. “It says you care more about sales than you do integrity.”

Though Rebelez declined to comment on IHOP’s sale of burgers and total earnings, he hinted that the company’s new burger line has been a success.

“If you’re going to grow your business, you have to take it from somebody else,” he said. “Somebody else out there lost a burger sale.”

Follow USA TODAY intern Ben Tobin on Twitter: @TobinBen