IHOP (IHOb?) Cooks Up A Win In The Attention Economy

While many QSRs and fast-casual restaurants are working to expand into the breakfast space, and as smaller, independent businesses cater to consumers’ growing appetites for an indulgent weekend brunch, one international player is going the opposite way: International House of Pancakes, aka IHOP, aka … International House of Burgers?

That’s the breakfast diner chain’s latest marketing move: flipping the “P” in its name to create a lowercase “b,” which the company now says stands for “burgers.”

IHOP (or IHOb) says the temporary name change – announced last week without any explanation for what the “b” might stand for – was conceived to make consumers scratch their heads and drum up buzz on social platforms.

Even more importantly, said IHOb, the move plants the seed in people’s heads that IHOP isn’t just for pancakes or even just for breakfast – it serves breakfast and lunch, too, and takes those repasts just as seriously as the morning meal.

Signage has been changed at a small number of key restaurants, but the company says that for the most part, it will remain IHOP across the board – the “b” was just a marketing ploy.

It seems to have worked. Love it or hate it, for the week that IHOb left the “b” unexplained, Twitter and the rest of the social universe could agree on one thing: The flip was worth talking about. And that was exactly the point.

For IHOb and others competing in the attention economy, all attention is good attention. People who would never normally talk about IHOP were raging that it would dare to change or expand its focus in any way, exposing more and more people to the marketing stunt in the process. If anyone previously believed that the restaurant served only breakfast, that misconception has now been corrected.

Attention economics asserts that human attention is a scarce commodity. The theory behind it is that people only have so much time and energy, so they must be selective about what they pay attention to in a world that is oversaturated with potential objects for that attention.

To keep the buzz going and draw consumers into their stores (either in person or online), brands must find ways to be heard above the chaos, and it’s campaigns like IHOb that really get people talking.

Like the blue/black versus white/gold dress – or, more recently, the Laurel versus Yanni debate – IHOb’s temporary name creates a false controversy. Why shouldn’t IHOP also serve burgers? Yet people are taking sides on the matter and flocking to the internet to defend their choices.

The real question remains: Will consumers put their money where their mouths (or keyboards) are? IHOb may be rich in the attention economy right now, but whether all that attention can be converted into profit remains to be seen.



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