IHOP Promotes Burgers by ‘Changing’ Name to IHOb, Gets Reaction

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A 21st century marketing success story.

They still serve pancakes.CreditMario Anzuoni/Reuters

IHOP has new burger offerings, and in order to promote those offerings, it is pretending to change its name to IHOb in a marketing campaign. The “b” stands for burgers.

IHOP (which we will insist on calling the chain until it becomes a correctable error) announced the fake name change last week, but kept the public in suspense about what the b stood for until Monday.

In the announcement, IHOP substituted “b’s” for “p’s” as if it were a leader of a burger gang whose nemesis is a pancake gang.

Flipping the acronym’s final letter as one might flip a hamburger got the company a lot of attention: IHOP, IHOb and International House all began to trend on Twitter almost immediately.

Many people said they were distressed, some because they hate the sound of the new word, others because they love pancakes. (Pancakes remain on the restaurant’s menu.) Still others pointed out that the “changed” logo, with its lowercase b, resembled that of o.b. tampons.

There are many words that start with b that we would have preferred to burgers. They include:

  • International House of Bargains. (Everyone loves bargains.)

  • International House of Bananas. (Surprising.)

  • International House of Bins. (Bivot!)

  • International House of Beyoncé. (Everyone loves Beyoncé.)

  • International House of Breakfast/Brunch/Bacon. (Safe, traditional.)

But burgers? Might as well call it International House of Basic and have done with it.

A spokeswoman for the global flapjack dwelling, Stephanie Peterson, said that even the company, which engineered the reaction, had been surprised by its force.

“We thought that people would have fun with this, but never did we imagine that it would grab the attention of America the way it did,” she said.

P and b are both bilabial plosives, meaning that your mouth does the same thing when you make the sound of both letters. The difference is that “b” is voiced, which for some people, makes it sound funny or strange coming at the end of a word.

Burger King, which might argue that it runs an international kingdom of burgers that is also a major corporation, did not reply to a request for comment. As of this writing, it had not responded to the pancake house’s rebranding.

Brad Haley, IHOP’s chief marketing officer, said that the idea had been proposed by the marketing firm Droga5 in November. He said that only one IHOP location, on Sunset Boulevard, had undergone a design change in response to the new (fake) name, which is meant to promote a product line of Ultimate Steakburgers.

Droga5 had originally pitched a campaign based on the idea of “pancakes, pancakes, pancakes,” Mr. Haley said.

“So we said that’s great, we agree with that approach obviously and we subsequently hired them. But we said, there will come times when we want to promote something other than pancakes. They came back with the idea of IHOb.”

Mr. Haley said that the burgers were “the most extensively tested new line of menu items that IHOP has ever done,” and that he expected them to be available for a long time. And while he spoke about the IHOb marketing campaign, which is set to wind down at the end of the summer, in the past tense, he was already looking forward to the days when people would be nostalgic for it.

“We’ll certainly get back to promoting breakfast items some time after this,” he said. “But I think IHOb will resurface at that point to hearken back to this fun time people are having right now.”

Things that sound weird!

Adventures in linguistics.

Jonah Bromwich is based in New York. He writes for the Style section. @jonesieman

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