International House Of Confusion

Marketing Experts Weigh In On IHOP Name Change

Jun 14, 2018

SMITH BRAIN TRUST — When IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, announced a temporary name change to IHOb this week, the jeers came quickly on social media. Yes, it was a gimmick. But was it a success? Marketing professors weigh in at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

B Is For Bemusing

“People were surprised to find out what ‘B’ stands for. The fact that IHOP sells burgers seems rather bemusing. In some sense, the publicity stunt is certainly working in spreading the buzz. Nonetheless, the word-of-mouth so far appears to be fairly negative. It is an open question whether people would go to IHOP for burgers after they have learned about the offering.”  — Jie Zhang, Professor of Marketing, Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management

B Is For Backlash

“As far as a publicity stunt, it seems to have worked as they have been able to dominate Twitter since they teased the public with their announcement to change their name on June 11. By capitalizing on social influencers they have been able to reach more individuals and stretch their promotional dollars.  But in orchestrating this PR event for their new menu items, they have also raised expectations for their upscale burgers in the minds of potential customers.

“The gourmet hamburger field is quickly becoming crowded, and if the quality is not there, this new menu promotion could be detrimental to IHOP. With the interest in healthy eating and, consequently, pancake sales flattening, it's understandable why they are diversifying into the red-hot gourmet hamburger menu offering.  It will allow them to capture family and group sales when not everyone wants pancakes for lunch. However, often when companies venture into new product offerings, they are not always successful, especially when the initial product offering has been so engrained into the hearts and minds of consumers as IHOP's has been. 

“It reminds me of the time several years ago when Burger King decided to be known as BK to downplay its burger offerings and move more into sales of chicken sandwiches. It was at a time when the general public was concerned about their consumption of red meat and sales of hamburgers was on the decline. This does show the importance of being on top of consumer sentiment when planning your company's marketing strategy.” — Mary B. Harms, Clinical Associate Professor in Marketing

B Is For Brand Dilution

“It's folly to make an abrupt change to the brand name (even on a temporary basis). It takes years for the public to amass the desired associations in memory that a firm projects toward the marketplace (e.g., IHOP means scrumptious pancakes served with strawberries, blueberries or chocolate chips).

“In my view, by taking on this radical approach, IHOP risks diluting its brand essence. Case in point, when I told my wife about the new logo, IHOb, she thought it stood for International House of Breakfast. It makes sense given her prior associations. Yet the intended inference behind this campaign is often easily missed. The newly minted IHOb now offers burgers on the menu. That's wonderful. But is it really necessary to tinker with the logo to get this message across? Interestingly, in the wake of this campaign, IHOb has left itself wide open for ridicule and corporate mockery. Just check out some of the latest jeers in the Twittersphere.” — Henry C. Boyd III, Clinical Professor of Marketing



About the Expert(s)

Mary B. Harms

Mary B. Harms joined University of Maryland in 2001. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the department of marketing, the program champion for the Strategic Design and Innovation in Marketing Undergraduate Fellows, founder of the Young Alumni Marketing Council, Academic Coordinator for marketing internships and the faculty advisor of MasTERPiece, the Smith School's fashion organization for undergraduates.

Henry C. Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

Jie Zhang

Jie Zhang is a Professor of Marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at NorthwesternUniversity. She was a faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan prior to joining the Smith School. Her general research interest is to apply advanced econometric and statistical models to study consumer purchase behaviors and retail strategies.

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