WhyHOP?

Remember the old expression, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well, you can retire that along with any hope for IHOP, who, in a pre-planned coordinated marketing/branding/PR effort, decided to change its name to IHOB.

At first, the brand teased the new name, and for a couple of weeks the Interwebs buzzed about the possibilities, roundly agreeing that the “B” would be for “breakfast.”

But noooooo. The we’re-smarter-than-you-are team at IHOP/B then dropped the real bomb: that the “B” would be for “burgers.”

I can hear you saying “but WHY? Why would a fast-casual restaurant chain with a 60-year history of serving (and dominating in) breakfast try to suddenly pivot to a burger chain? Especially in light of the fact that there are SO MANY bigger, richer, more entrenched burger chains across the category?

So first, let’s be clear: IHOP is NOT actually changing its name to IHOB. We’ve been trolled. We’ve been duped. We’ve been fake news-ed. And while it may seem fitting in the United States of Trump to push out fake stories in service of ulterior motives, this one’s not getting elected to anything soon.

Instead, the other restaurant chains are actually enjoying the halo effect of all of IHOP/B’s spent money and effort as they throw shade from every corner of the flat-top:

When a Twitter user asked Wendy’s if they were worried about the new competition, Wendy’s sharply replied: “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.” Ouch.

Taking it to a whole other level, Burger King has changed its Twitter handle to Pancake King to gloat.

Waffle House, a brand that can hardly get its shit in one bag as a brand, had this to say:
“Even though we serve delicious burgers… we know our roots.”

White Castle:
“We are excited to announce that we will be switching our name to Pancake Castle.”

Even Netflix – yes, Netflix…not even remotely in or near the category – got in on the action with this savage tweet:
“brb changing my name to Netflib”

This recent publicity stunt of “re-branding” of IHOP to IHOB is not only a temporary hoax, it’s also a strategic misstep. They were (likely) doing it to get some top of mind awareness around their new line of burgers, which they’re promoting hard over the summer to stave off sagging sales in the afternoon and evening periods.

But for brand managers and CMOs who have influence over things like this, top of mind is not the point in and of itself. Preference is the point. Difference is the point. You use top of mind tactics to cement your differences and create preference around them. Scams and gimmicks are for used car salesmen and some carpetbagger politicians, but not for supposedly mature brands.

When you’re good at something – indeed when you own an attribute that larger, more mature brands can’t touch you on – your job is to build on that advantage. Make the gap wider, and make it harder and harder for ANY brand to encroach on your position. Instead, what IHOP/B has done has created doubt in the mind of consumers.

The average consumer will think “why would they try to do burgers? They’re a breakfast place.” And that little bit of doubt about the brand’s judgment will leak into little bits of doubt about their ability to even win at breakfast anymore.

I’m sure the brand has girded themselves for this.  The last board meeting was probably filled with aphorisms like “it’s gonna look bad for a while, and we may even take some heat, but we’ll dominate the trades for a month.”

Last time I checked, nobody ever walked into an IHOP because they were dominating the trades. Come to think of it, nobody ever walked into an IHOP for a burger either.

Why would Amazon rush up to a #2 position in a category? (Hint: it’s the money.)

amazon-com-logo

One of the basic tenets of marketing, (and what almost all of my students are sick of hearing about already,) is that brands need to strive for a leadership position. You may not always be able to achieve category leadership, but you can certainly attain positional leadership: quality, price, availability, etc. Heck, leadership is so important, the concept of loss leaders is a thing.

And while leadership is the coveted spot, there happens to be some pretty cushy seats in the #2 position as well. Just ask Avis, Burger King, and Pepsi how they’re doing. Avis is the quintessential case study here, having turned their #2 status into a promote-able benefit nearly 50 years ago, and successfully positioning themselves in their category. (It turned into some pretty great advertising from Doyle Dane Bernbach, too.) Sure, these companies have never beaten out their category leaders on the key metrics, (revenue, profits, number of locations, etc.) but they have consistently beaten out EVERY OTHER player in the space.

I’m most interested in this positioning battle model since hearing the news that Amazon is entering the video content space with a new platform called “Amazon Video Direct.” This platform will allow users to upload their own content, and will even have revenue-sharing models for those who upload premium content that other users may be willing to pay for. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s YouTube under a different name. [PS – if you think you can be a video star, this may be your big chance to get in on the ground floor.  Just sayin’.]

Amazon has made a history (and quite a good living, thank you) by exploring opportunities outside its core competency as an online retailer. While purchases of companies like Audible and Zappos make perfect sense as extensions, development of electronics devices (like Kindle and more recently, Echo,) cellular enablement services (like Amazon Wireless,) and original content (Amazon Studios) really didn’t. That those products may have performed fairly or even very well is beside the point.  T

Just as a sidebar, let’s think on that for a moment:  Amazon, an online retailer, delivers original programming content. Could you imagine if, 30 years ago, K-Mart (a one-time very successful retailer,) launched a dramatic series on television? Who would have ever taken that seriously? So yay for the tech revolution and skewed boundaries!

Video content is really far from what we might consider Amazon’s sweet spot. Sure, Amazon Studios may have a mild hit with “Transparent,” as a piece of original content, but they’re not going to catch Netflix any time soon. And that may be precisely the point.

Nor is Amazon Video Direct going to catch YouTube and its billion-user infrastructure any time soon. But with Amazon’s 130 million unique visitors per month (just let that sink in a moment,) they can rush right up to a cozy #2 spot in the category, maybe disrupt a few long-held market beliefs, and add a few more zeros to their bottom line and their $700 per share stock price.