IHOP Lying To Its Customers: How NOT To Build Fandom

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Worst Practices  |  Case Studies  |  Marketing  |  Newsjacking

IHOB logoThis original version of this post on June 12, 2018 has been edited to reflect the importance of trust in building fandom.

Social media exploded with the news, released June 4, 2018, that IHOP (International House of Pancakes) was to change their name  to “IHOb.” A week later, they announced they weren't really changing their name.

They were lying. It was just a marketing ploy. Ugh.

Trust is vital to connecting with customers. Once that trust has been broken, it is hard to win back — just ask Wells Fargo and PayPal

Creating personal relationships is the key to building fandom around your business — generating meaningful experiences that turns customers into passionate fans.

IHOP's trickery is a perfect example of what NOT to do when trying to grow fandom for your business. 

Deception Causes Confusion for Fans

IHOP announced the “name change” on June 4, 2018 with a new verified Twitter feed at @IHOb and the announcement:

“For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could b on 6.11.18. #IHOb”.

People wanted to know: What’s going on with the brand we love?

Thousands of fans thought the name change was true, and they didn’t like it one bit.

Fans said things on social media like:

  • "IHOP is changing its name to IHOB and while people think it stands for "breakfast" I'm putting my money on BETRAYAL"
  • “just found out ihop is changing their name to ihob and I feel like many of my constitutional rights are being violated”

Others said things on social media specifically calling out the marketers involved:

  • “International House of Bad marketing decisions”
  • “I want to be a fly on the wall at the marketing meetings”
  • “Dear @IHOb Changing from a proven business model and going in a new direction is a great idea. Regards, New Coke”

“IHOb” even retweeted an image of a crane replacing an IHOP sign with an IHOb one, making the idea that they really are changing their name even more plausible.

Many mainstream media outlets published stories as if the impending name change were true including The Washington Post, Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Yahoo, and several local ABC and CBS network affiliated televisions stations.

Some people tried to guess what “IHOb” could mean. Many guessed “International House of Bacon” and “International House of Breakfast”. Others got cute, suggesting weird things like “International House of Bjork” and “International House of Bitcoin”. Chiquita tweeted “International House of Bananas” and the musician Brian Eno tweeted “International House of Brian Eno”. 

Then, on June 11, IHOb, er… IHOP let the world know the answer. “Just kidding!”

They weren't really changing their name. It was simply a way to get social media talking about the fact that you can go to IHOP for more than just breakfast and, oh yeah, now we have burgers too.

Lying Hurts Your Fandom

Is lying in public is so widespread in America in 2018 that marketers feel compelled to use it as a ploy to get attention?

And don’t even get me started about politicians! It seems that nobody believes what our leaders say. It’s like theater. When they run for election, they make promises that voters know they won’t keep. And when they get to office they say anything they want. 

Here are other statements that I frequently see that I simply don’t believe anymore.

  • Your call is important to us.
  • Due to higher than expected call volume, your wait time is longer than normal.
  • We love our customers.
  • This is the best price I can offer.

Sure, this IHOb thing was just a marketing stunt. You might say "Lighten up, David. It was funny." Yes, it certainly got attention.

But the idea of messing with the truth when communicating with the fans of your company and its products isn’t good marketing. It’s deception.

Newsjacking IHOb

Of course, the burger chains got in some clever newsjacking. Burger King even changed their name on social media to Pancake King.

It seems to me that they’re all laughing at IHOb, not with IHOP.




Pancake King

Key Takeaway

Marketing stunts may grab attention in the short-term, but lying to your customers is a sure way to hurt your credibility and lose trust from would-be fans.

Instead of deceiving customers, you should forge personal relationships built on genuine human connection to grow a passionate and excited fanbase. If you want to learn how to grow fandom around your business, check out my new book, Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans, which comes out on January 7, 2020. 

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