International House of Whaaaaa?: A rebrand story

Earlier this month, International House of Pancakes (aka IHOP) made a bold decision to rebrand. At least, that’s what people initially thought. IHOP announced June 4 on Twitter it was “flippin’ our name to IHOb.” The company didn’t tell anyone what the “b” would stand for initially, building suspense for the big reveal.

People guessed everything from biscuits, to bacon to butternut squash. Many people assumed “b” would stand for “breakfast” since IHOP is known for its pancakes and other morning fare. For a week, IHOb (the name had already been changed on Twitter) continued to engage with followers via social media telling them to “try again.”

On June 11, the company made the rebrand official. Sort of. IHOb revealed itself as International House of Burgers—but, as it turns out, the rebrand is only temporary. IHOb is not a permanent change, rather a publicity stunt to gain attention for a new line of Ultimate Steakburgers available in IHOP restaurants across the country. After more than 2 years of decline, the company created the faux rebrand simply to create buzz and help gain new market share.

It certainly did create buzz. According to PRWeek, the rebrand has been featured in more than 15,000 media stories and shared in countless ways across social media platforms. The website experienced a spike in visitors on the day of the announcement five times more than normal traffic. Celebs, competitors, fans and critics talked (and continue to talk) about it—sharing photos, feelings and creative commentary.

No one can argue the campaign gave people something to discuss. However, whether the campaign was a success still causes disagreement. Critics argue the stunt was in poor taste given recent tensions about “fake news.” And, competitors quickly took advantage of the announcement with responses like those of Burger King and Wendy’s.

Others were just confused and didn’t think the change made any sense.

Whether you think the IHOb stunt was brave or irresponsible, brilliant or foolhardy, the case highlights a few important considerations for professional communicators.

  • What is your measure of success? Lots of businesses say they want to “create buzz.” But, vanity metrics in and of themselves don’t really mean much. IHOb got a lot of people talking—but whether it results in adequate burger purchases remains yet to be seen. So, what are you really trying to accomplish with the extra attention? Make sure that message comes through loud and clear.
  • What is going on around you? Timing is everything. Poor timing can make you look insensitive and unprofessional. The IHOb campaign was intended to be innocent and fun, and for the most part it was. But, no one likes to be accused of being deceitful. Had this campaign taken place several years ago, that accusation likely would not have been made. But “fake news” has raised a lot of hackles lately. Take a look around to make sure your move doesn’t make your company look like a jerk.
  • What are you willing to risk? Rewards usually require some risk. IHOb got a lot of people talking, and many people left delicious reviews. But, the brand felt some backlash, as well. IHOb has played along, and the banter has been fun to watch—but make sure you can handle the heat if you’re going to make a move that bold.

Bottom line, it’s easy to criticize a campaign when you’re sitting on the sidelines. But, sitting on the sidelines won’t garner much attention. Find ways to stand out—just make sure you think the rewards and risks all the way through.

Kristin Helvey, MBA, APR, is principal of Helvey Communications, a full-service public relations firm in Anchorage specializing in communication strategy, partnership development and training design. Kristin has been featured nationally in industry publications such as Healthcare Marketing and PRWeek US. Her teams have earned numerous state and national awards, including a 2017 Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil and 2016 PRSA Alaska Grand Award for crisis communications. Kristin’s Alaska Native heritage lured her home after finishing a bachelor’s degree in public relations at Oklahoma State University. She completed her master’s in business administration at Alaska Pacific University, where she now teaches marketing and senior research.


Kristin is PRSA Alaska Chapter president elect and represents the Alaska market in the national PRConsultants Group. She is accredited in public relations by PRSA.



Amy Smith

What’s in a name? Everything, including how you launch it! Interesting case study…I actually hadn’t heard about the “b” but would give their campaign a “B” – not bad, but rebrands are typically not a “flash in the pan” (too many puns?). Great article – thanks for sharing!


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