IHOP Marketing: 8 Lessons for Brands & Marketers

When you hear the name IHOP, do you think of fluffy stacks of pancakes? Then you are not alone. This results from the brand’s finesse in serving not just the finest pancakes but also the most delectable marketing campaigns. A dash of humor, and a big dollop of creativity – that’s the secret to the IHOP marketing magic. 

Ready for some marketing inspiration? Then this blog is just for you. We’ll be looking at an overview of the IHOP brand followed by some ideas to take away from the IHOP marketing strategies. Without further ado, let’s get the pancakes flipping. 

Evolution of the IHOP Brand 

You might probably know that IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes. But did you know that the acronym was only introduced in 1973? That’s 15 years after the first International House of Pancakes restaurant was opened in California! 

Naturally, the first logo featured the full name and it was a pretty elaborate logo meant to capture the cozy vibes of the restaurant. 

The next few iterations of the logo also included the full brand name whereas the acronym was used in various other places. 

As can be seen from the logo evolution in the above image, the brand’s transition into the modern and friendly identity that it has today happened gradually. First, the red-blue brand color combination was introduced. And then came the signature brand font. Let’s take a closer look at these elements of the IHOP brand identity. 

IHOP logo colors 

In branding, red is seen as a color that induces hunger, one that signifies urgency thus making it suitable for fast-food restaurants. On the other hand, blue is a professional color known to evoke trust and it balances the red in the IHOP logo perfectly.  

The brand has consistently been using the signature red-blue combination in its restaurant ambiance, store signage, print ads, social media posts, and other designs that represent the IHOP brand. This consistency has been a big strength of the IHOP marketing strategy. 

IHOP logo font

Typography is the next big thing in logo design after color. And this is one area where IHOP excels with its unique and friendly font. The heavy-stroke weights make the logo look bold, perfect for a brand that dominates the market. However, the subtle curved characters keep the tone friendly, perfect for a consumer brand. 

Symbolism in the IHOP logo 

Every logo needs an element of interest, something for users to hold on to and remember the brand easily. This element of interest in the IHOP logo is the red curve that forms a smiley face along with the letters “o” and “p”.

IHOP introduced this “smile” in its logo in 2015 since the brand felt that the curved banner for the word “restaurant” in the old IHOP logo looked like a frown. No doubt, this simple change uplifted the mood of the logo drastically. 

KIMP Tip: Want to draw inspiration from the IHOP logo design and add an emotional depth to your logo? Define your brand’s unique personality clearly and also define what emotions you would like your brand identity to evoke in your customers. 

Use these details as a guide to identify the right symbolism for your logo. As can be seen on the IHOP logo, even the simplest symbols and illustrations can make your logo more meaningful and memorable. 

Having discussed the critical elements of the IHOP brand, let’s now move on to some ideas inspired by the IHOP marketing strategies. 

IHOP Marketing – Exploring the Brand’s Creative Strategies 

1. Flipping the name: IHOP’s viral rebranding campaign (IHOB)

When you Google the term “IHOP marketing” the “IHOB” campaign is perhaps one that you see everywhere. Undoubtedly, the IHOB campaign was one of the most effective and also the most controversial campaigns by the IHOP marketing team. 

For a quick background – the brand announced that they were going to rebrand themselves as IHOB. They launched a brief teaser on social media featuring the “p” in the logo seamlessly flipping into a “b”. 

This teaser and announcement sparked several social media conversations about the brand. And without too much delay, a week later, the brand also revealed that the “b” in the new name “IHOB” was for “burgers”. The idea of the campaign was to promote the burgers on the menu. 

This is undoubtedly one of the most controversial campaigns in the IHOP marketing history. Because the campaign received mixed reviews. On one side, it received plenty of media coverage. On another side, brands around the world started piggybacking on the popularity of this topic on social media. 

Amidst all this, customers were not really happy with the name change. However, the brand later switched back to its original name and clarified that the change was temporary. Reportedly, this temporary name-change campaign helped IHOP boost its burger sales by 4 times. This shows the strength of going viral on social media and what benefits it brings to a brand. 

2. IHOP’s innovative product line extensions

Many brands grapple with the challenges of product marketing, often straying from their core identity in search of innovation. However, IHOP does this differently. Despite a brief and daring rebranding as IHOB (International House of Burgers), the brand’s unwavering focus has remained on pancakes.

At the same time, it also regularly introduces variety to appeal to new customers without losing its old ones. How IHOP tackles this is what sets it apart. 

For National Pizza Day in 2019, IHOP came up with a novel product they labeled “Pancizza” which is evidently, a pizza-sized portion of a pancake. 

The pancake taco on their menu is yet another example. 

As can be seen, these products also help the brand gain media coverage and stay on top of social media discussions. These products truly are a testament to the IHOP marketing phenomenon. 

3. Pancakes, points, and perks: IHOP’s loyalty program

IHOP knows well that keeping customers coming back for more is the key to staying ahead in a competitive space. Therefore, recently, the brand introduced its loyalty program called the “International Bank of Pancakes”. This cryptocurrency-inspired program allows IHOP users to accumulate PanCoins with every order. Users can use these PanCoins to earn promotional coupons for their future orders. 

Additionally, members also gain access to secret menu items, exclusive offers, free birthday pancakes, easy app-based payment options, and more. IHOP also announces exclusive discounts, giveaways, and merchandise for members, as can be seen in the below post. 

This IHOP marketing approach aims to reward loyal customers, create lasting relationships, and enhance the dining experience. Moreover, data collected from transactions is useful in crafting personalized marketing offers based on past orders.

4. IHOP’s virtual brands 

When you want to expand your reach and your revenue sources, what do you do? Diversify your portfolio? Explore new markets? Well, they come with their fair share of risks and there is the additional question about your brand’s original identity being tested. IHOP has the perfect answer to this – virtual brands. Instead of adding too many things and diluting the IHOP brand name, the company simply expands through virtual brands. 

Part of this approach is because the brand has primarily been known to specialize in its dine-in experience for breakfast. Pivoting from this has not been so successful for IHOP, as evident from the downfall of its venture, Flip’d. 

Flip’d was created as a pancake-to-go concept for busy urban areas and the stores were much smaller than traditional IHOP stores. The idea did not pay off and eventually, the brand shut down Flip’d. Meanwhile, separating the experiments from the main IHOP brand and sticking to virtual brands has been quite successful for IHOP. 

So far, the brand has 4 virtual brands in its portfolio namely, Thrilled Cheese, Super Mega Dilla, TenderFix, and Pardon My Cheesesteak. These virtual brands of IHOP cater to online deliveries through popular food ordering apps. This allows the brand to diversify its portfolio without sacrificing its original niche market. 

Additionally, this IHOP marketing approach has also opened up new ways to partner with celebrities and influencers. A good example is the TenderFix brand created in partnership with Stranger Things star, Noah Schnapp and virtual restaurant company, Nextbite. 

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5. Serving beyond pancakes: IHOP’s merchandise line 

The IHOP marketing secret is to commit to long-term customer relationships rather than focusing on making a one-time sale happen. This is evident from most of the IHOP marketing strategies we’ve discussed so far. To add to this, there is the merchandise line by the brand. This includes clothes, fashion accessories, and more. 

IHOP’s merchandise line is more than just a revenue stream; it’s a way to strengthen the emotional connection between the brand and its customers. Fans of the brand can proudly display their love for IHOP through these products, effectively turning customers into brand ambassadors.

6. Serving consistency: IHOP’s decades-long commitment to breakfast

We spoke about IHOP catering to niche markets through its virtual brands and how this has been a way for the brand to strongly hold on to its original identity and niche market. This has also been possible because of the brand’s consistent messaging in its commercials and other marketing materials. 

For example, the below videos are decades apart. But one thing remains common in both of them – the brand’s focus on its breakfast offerings. 

7. Minions and more: IHOP’s savvy brand collaborations

Brand partnerships have been an integral part of the IHOP marketing strategy. The brand has been strategic in choosing its brand partners and consistent in these collaborations. These collaborations create memorable experiences and unique menu items, often tying into popular culture.

One noteworthy example is IHOP’s collaboration with Universal Pictures’ “Minions” movie franchise. To celebrate the recent Minions movie  IHOP introduced an exclusive limited-edition menu inspired by the Minions. Ideas like this one are crowd-pullers. Additionally, these collaborations have helped IHOP cater to specific audience segments, like the family audience in the Minion movie collaboration. 

8. Acing the social media marketing game 

Social media has been a strong point of focus in the IHOP marketing strategy. The brand’s strong social media presence comes from a variety of strategies it incorporates. 

For example, IHOP fosters brand awareness through digital stickers on Instagram. These are free to use and the brand encourages customers to use them when it hosts online challenges etc. As a result, they help strengthen brand awareness while also bringing in user-generated content for the brand to leverage. 

IHOP also comes up with unique engagement-focused social media ideas to initiate conversations with its customers and also to increase brand mentions and visibility. It does all this while staying on theme. Like the below Pancake Support challenge. 

In addition to all these strategies IHOP regularly leverages gamification in its social media content. The below Story post was when the brand introduced simple pancake-themed games for its social media users to try. These are fun and engaging ways to connect with customers while also building a positive brand image. 

To keep up with trends and to constantly create opportunities for going viral, the brand also regularly hosts TikTok challenges like the one below. These are great ways to communicate to your customers in a language they know well. 

Finally, to ensure constant growth and to reach new audiences, IHOP also hosts giveaways like the one below. This is also a good example of IHOP’s brand partnerships to target niche audiences. Furthermore, the reward in the giveaway is the signature syrup caddy which has become a pivotal component of the IHOP brand identity over the years. That’s yet another proof of the IHOP marketing excellence. 

Elevate Your Marketing Game With IHOP-inspired Strategies

It’s time to wrap up our discussion on the IHOP marketing approach. Which is your favorite marketing strategy among the ones discussed? Are you ready to try them for your brand? Notice how IHOP always leverages the right visuals to go with all its campaigns and to establish its brand identity consistently. 

To achieve this you need a reliable go-to design team that works on all your marketing and branding designs and helps shape your brand’s image both online and offline. That’s where an unlimited design service like KIMP comes into the picture. Want to know more about KIMP’s unlimited design subscriptions? Book a call with the KIMP team today. Or register now for a free 7-day trial!