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IHOP shows the right way to troll the trolls

Perhaps the “P” in IHOP really stands for “provocation,” as one expert puts it.

After enraging some social media users last year with a temporary rebrand as IHOb in a stunt to promote its burgers, the restaurant chain is trolling them in a follow-up campaign. The push includes an aggregated list of Twitter users who told IHOP, some not in the kindest of words, to stick to pancakes.

To see if they are on the list, IHOP created the app and microsite The Bancake List. Users are invited to input their handle to see if “You’re bancaked!” pops up, with the word “bancaked” stamped across their offending tweet.

Consumer and digital marketing professionals are applauding the sassy effort.

“Two things stand out to me,” says Scott Monty, former digital communications lead at Ford who now runs his own strategy consulting firm. “First, that this campaign is an extension of the previous one. It creates continuity and a familiarity with the brand, rather than just jumping from one campaign to another. The second is that IHOP has done its homework by tracking their detractors and creating the Bancake list. What will immediately happen is anyone who remembers calling out IHOP last year will rush to the site to see if their name is on it. People love seeing their name out there for others to see.”

Challenging online haters can be a risky play. No brand wants to be dragged through the online mud again. However, experts say IHOP isn’t treating critics like trolls, but rather as pancake lovers, and trying to win them over with hamburgers.

IHOP gave the first 2,000 Bancaked-branded Twitter users a $10 IHOP digital gift card after they tweet a pre-written, locked “apology” with the hashtags #IHOPMadeMeSayThis, #IHOPBancakeList and #Ad. The Bancake List prompts the message, “You started this. Now you can finish it. Just tweet something nice to eat something nice.”

In essence, IHOP has created an app for customer leads and conversions, notes Kimberly Lancaster, president and founder of Caster Communications.

“It’s easy to hate on something in a mob mentality, but challenging consumers to put their money where their mouth is invites them into their restaurant chain and to potentially change their point of view,” she says. “At the end of day, isn’t that really what PR and social media is all about, getting consumers to love or convert to your brand?”

IHOP comms head Stephanie Peterson said the campaign is “leaning into the hate” and hoping to “flip it and turn into something fun and positive.”

In addition to the Bancake app, Peterson hinted that the campaign could include influencers eating IHOP-branded burger buns “so that people literally eat their words.”

Droga5 created the campaign, and Devries Global, IHOP’s PR firm, seeded content for media and influencer engagement.

Rules of engagement

The campaign hasn’t stopped Twitter detractors from doubling down on their original tweets, including members of the media who might otherwise report on the campaign.

“The ‘b’ in @IHOP’s ihob should stand for boycott because I’m sick of y’alls pr stunts with these burgers!” posted Alyssa Deitsch, a news anchor and reporter for a Fox affiliate in Las Vegas.

Even if the Bancake push fails to turn haters into eaters, Chad Latz, chief innovation officer and global president for digital at BCW, says “it still keeps IHOP in the cultural conversation.”

He adds that IHOP had sales data from its prior campaign to validate its seemingly bold approach. Last year’s campaign quadrupled IHOP’s burger sales.

“Utilizing business insights to determine what portion of your market can you afford to alienate for the sake of futureproofing your brand with core or emerging consumers is an exercise that all smart communicators should undertake,” adds Latz.

However, Richard Spragg, CEO at Hirebrand and VP at U.K.-based creative agency Realityhouse, says it is an exercise brands should carefully undertake, especially when calling out people on social media.

“Brands should be very careful exposing people to attention like this if the person’s not on board in advance,” he says. “You can argue that anyone who puts their opinion out there is signing up to have it quoted, but that’s not going to help your brand if you create a real problem in someone’s life just because they didn’t like your ad campaign. You’ll be seen as the corporate aggressor bullying the little guy.”

Spragg says the reason IHOP has effectively turned social media backlash into an asset is because it isn’t being mean-spirited or manipulative.

“It’s OK to troll people in the right way. To me, this means telling the people you’re trolling what you plan to do, and bringing them into the joke,” he says.

Sybil Grieb, U.S. head of influencer strategy and programming at Edelman, agrees that brands shouldn’t have a hard-and-fast rule against responding to nasty or off-color posts, but if they do, the reply should “relate to them on the platforms of their choice, with timely, on-par humor.”

“Lean into any tension in a fun and engaging way,” she advises.

This story was originally published on


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