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The P in IHOP doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for

The 60-year-old brand surprised many by somehow becoming part of pop culture with its IHOB stunt last year. Now it’s flipped the script . . . sort of.

The P in IHOP doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for

Back in April 1970, Joni Mitchell released her album Ladies of the Canyon. It went on to become one of the singer-songwriter’s best known works thanks in large part to the fourth song on its second side, “Big Yellow Taxi.” Ostensibly about environmental concerns, it also took on larger themes of love, loss, and appreciation: “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

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Now let’s talk about pancakes. For decades, towns and cities across America have been home to the familiar, if somewhat garish, blue A-frame roof of the International House of Pancakes. IHOP became the chain restaurant version of that old side table next to your parents’ couch. No one remembers how it got there, or really pays it much attention. Until mom and dad replaced it with a yoga mat. Then it became, Where’s the side table? What happened to the side table? HOW COULD YOU GET RID OF THE SIDE TABLE?

That’s basically what happened last year when IHOP announced it was changing its name to IHOB (International House of Burgers). People who hadn’t thought about IHOP in eons, let alone went there for lunch or dinner–maybe ever–completely freaked out.

The IHOB campaign got the brand more than 42 billion media impressions worldwide, and immediately quadrupled the company’s burger sales. Now a year later, with burger sales still humming along at double their pre-IHOB numbers, the brand is trying to once again to catch advertising lightning in a (butter pecan) bottle.

Last week, the diner chain announced that it would have an announcement today, relating to its name, aiming once again for the same social-media chatter that debated its burgers last time around. A lot of those people last year scolded IHOP for venturing beyond pancakes. Now the brand is having a bit of fun with that idea–and the definition of a pancake.

“This year we listened to the internet and are sticking to what we do best, which is pancakes,” says IHOP CMO Brad Haley. “We’re just now calling our steak burgers pancakes. We contacted some of the people who told us to stick to pancakes last year for this year’s campaign, so the trolls have teed up the new campaign quite nicely.”

What is a pancake, really? It’s not cake. People make them out of potatoes, zucchini, and carrots. So why not beef, right? Right. After all, they’re all disc-shaped fried items prepared in a griddle or skillet. What is the difference really?

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Look, we live in a world in which words are used to sell things nowhere near their meaning. Uber. Amazon. Fox. Point is, here are IHOP and Droga5 just trying to remind you that this may be an old brand, but it’s self-aware with a sense of humor. Remember IHOPs beer?

“The crux of this year’s campaign, is going back and answering people’s questions and criticisms. Let’s talk to them and have some fun,” says Droga5 creative director Todd Rone Parker. “Once we struck a chord and got people’s attention, now it’s important to just keep that momentum going.”

I’m a pancake. You’re a pancake. Everyone’s a pancake.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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