Branding meltdown: IHOP is now IHOB


In the beginning, there was the International House of Pancakes.

The earth was young, the continents still forming, but the International House of Pancakes was already there, and it was good, and fruitful, and it multiplied, spreading across the globe.

But then as time went on, something happened. The management felt it was too limiting to have a restaurant with the word "Pancakes" in the name, so they changed the name to the nonsensical IHOP, to obscure the word "Pancakes", much like Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC to obscure the word "Fried".

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And now, IHOP is changing its name again, to IHOB. The International House of Burgers.

IHOP is well known as a restaurant whose expertise is pancakes but also serves a wide variety of other dinner entrees (including hamburgers). But the branding experts at IHOP decided they wanted to emphasize the burger connection and so they are changing the name to IHOB.

Only some locations are changing the name to IHOB. Others aren't changing at all. And those who are changing from IHOP to IHOB plan to later change back to IHOP again. Does this brand meddling make any sense?

An IHOP in Hollywood is getting new IHOb signs, and some others might get the treatment. But... the vast majority of the nearly 1,800 other locations will still go by IHOP.

All this does is create brand confusion. Some people will think that IHOP no longer specializes in pancakes. Some people will have no idea what IHOB means. And others will not be convinced that a pancakes restaurant can rebrand itself as a burger specialty restaurant.

I'll bet that the management of IHOP paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on fancy consultants to come up with this rebranding. Just as people go to astrologers or fortune tellers to predict their future, corporations with too much money to burn go to high price consultants who claim to know how to market a product better than the company who hired them. Many times, they don't.

If IHOP's parent company (which also owns Appleby's) felt that the pancake restaurant model wasn't working, they could have shut down their IHOP locations, remodeled and reopened as an entirely new brand focusing on burgers. (Like The Counter, or Five Guys, or In and Out Burger.)

But attempting to rebrand IHOP as a burger restaurant is about as likely to succeed as rebranding Pizza Hut as a steakhouse. The brand is simply too closely identified with something else.

I speak of these things not as an attorney (which I am), but as someone who has advised the retail industry for years on legal, management, and marketing issues. You can't simply switch a brand name back and forth like a light switch in some branches but not others and not expect customers to be confused. Dine Brands Global, which owns IHOP, should stop trying to put wings on a pig and think of other ways to attract more customers.

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