IHOP's name change is what happens when brands exploit the Internet outrage cycle

Apparently succumbing to the theory that any publicity is good publicity, IHOP announced Monday it is now IHOB. The swap was first teased last week on Twitter:

"Dear Internet, we abbreciate your batience. Now let's see who guessed right. B-hold!!!!! #IHOb"

Yes, the brand whose moniker evolved from the abbreviation for International House of Pancakes is turning the "p" into a "b," trading pancakes for . . . burgers. Not breakfast, as many had speculated over the past few days. Burgers. Social media users were not amused, tweeting such comments as "International House of Betrayal #ihop" and "IHOP: Millennials were about to kill us, so we finished the job ourselves."

Then again, there was plenty of skepticism to go around since the company's news release vaguely declares the name change is in effect "for the time being." Oh, and it's not like they will stop serving pancakes.

So who gets the most credit, or blame, for this avalanche of self-righteous, if silly, outrage? IHOP (sorry, IHOB just sounds like you are trying to pronounce "IHOP" while terribly congested)? Or the masses and media (guilty!) for playing along?

I vote for both sides, although IHOP's ploy seems cynical and shortsighted at best, clearly designed to take advantage of our baser online instincts.

You are a brand known for pancakes, the type of wholesome spot you take your grandpa or your kid's soccer team. Or, perhaps, your hung-over friends after a big night out. Why would you want to distance yourself from your core appeal?

Sure, sales have plateaued in the past few years, but as recently as three years ago, IHOP was celebrating its highest sales numbers in a decade. At the time, anyway, the brand was all about encouraging people to eat breakfast all day, with half of the breakfast food orders at IHOP happening at lunch or dinner. Great! Breakfast for lunch or dinner is fun, it's nostalgic, it's comforting. Even all the flavors of pancakes the brand has come up with - cupcake! red velvet! latte! - were true to its spirit. Burgers from a brand not known for burgers? *Crickets.*

I'd like to see how the folks in the boardroom crunched the numbers they hope to achieve. Will IHOP sell more burgers? Or enough burgers to make up for what feels very much like a marketing blunder? You have to wonder whether it's worth the risk, either of confusing people who really do think this is a permanent change in name and mission or of aliening customers who are turned off by the Internet-driven theatrics.

So, congrats, IHOP. Or IHOB, or whatever else you decide to be in the future. Congrats, us. Let's get this one out of our system and move on to the next Internet Thing.

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