Remember that time IHOP, the pancake ruler of the world, caused a nationwide frenzy by announcing it was changing its name to IHOb, International House of Burgers? Yeah, me too. While it may feel like that happened years ago, it actually took place in 2018.

 

Whether you loved the publicity stunt or hated it, you have to admit it caught your attention and made for good conversation.

 

As we gear up to enter a new year, let’s take a look at three of the most noteworthy marketing and PR moments of 2018.

 

IHOP Fakes a Name Change

While some called it stupid, others called it genius. Either way, the world was captivated at the idea that the 60-year old International House of Pancakes would be known for anything but sweet and delicious breakfast food. The stunt did exactly what it was intended to do: get the world talking about the brand and thinking about it as more than just a go-to breakfast joint.

 

IHOP has served burgers since opening its first location in 1958. However, with casual dining and family dining becoming less popular with the proliferation of restaurant delivery services, the restaurant needed to get more diners coming in its doors for lunch.

 

While the marketing stunt certainly created a ton of buzz this year, it did also create some confusion. Many consumers were left wondering if the company was moving to a burgers-only menu and whether the signature pancakes they loved would continue to be served. There are still online news stories about the IHOb name change—but with no mention that it was all a hoax. The stunt even helped brands like Wendy’s and Waffle House draw some extra attention by generating Twitter wars full of witty banter and friendly trolling.

 

But it seems to have worked…at least for now. The stunt generated millions of social media impressions and extensive media coverage in just about every national consumer outlet. In the weeks following the launch, the pancake chain’s parent company said burger sales quadrupled for a short period. More recently, the company says it has doubled comparable burger sales since before the promotion.

 

Starbucks Racial Sensitivity Training

On a Tuesday afternoon in May, 8,000 Starbucks cafes closed for a four-hour anti-bias training seminar. More than 175,000 baristas participated in the training following an incident in Philadelphia that tested the company’s value of standing firmly against discrimination or racial profiling. The company announced the training soon after two black men were arrested at a store in Philadelphia while waiting for a friend.

 

In a situation where a lot of things went wrong, Starbucks (and its PR team) did a lot of things right. When it comes to preparing our own clients for crisis communications management, the steps that were taken by Starbucks are something that Dittoe PR prides itself on doing as well.

 

The company issued a public apology on Twitter two days following the incident, giving the organization enough time to gather the basic facts. Kevin Johnson, chief executive of Starbucks, then went on to issue a statement in which he articulated empathy and regret to the two men who were innocently at the heart of the controversy. From there, Johnson vowed to fully investigate the facts of the matter and make changes at Starbucks to prevent a similar incident from ever occurring again.

 

While some criticized the lapse in time between Johnson’s public statement and the disheartening incident in Philadelphia, many others praised him for accepting accountability and injecting himself into the conversation.

 

Johnson reiterated that “Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling,” and offered a face-to-face apology to the two men. He promised that company-wide meetings and trainings would take place to underscore Starbucks’ commitment to treating one another with respect and dignity.

 

Starbucks’ executive chairman Howard Schultz went on CBS This Morning to discuss how the company intended to handle the incident by closing 8,000 stores for racial sensitivity training:

“It will cost millions of dollars, but I’ve always viewed this and things like this as not an expense, but an investment in our people and our company. And we’re better than this.”

 

While there’s rarely a “perfect” way to handle crisis communications in an incident of this severity, Starbucks deserves a lot of credit for a great job in crisis management. The company acknowledged the problem, apologized, addressed the intended solution, and most importantly, followed up on the promise they made.

 

Payless’s Unexpected Influencer Campaign

More recently, Payless pulled a PR stunt with a brilliant influencer campaign by opening their high-end alter ego: a luxury shoe store called Palessi. The low-price shoe store sold the same shoes found in Payless shoe stores—but with a major price hike.

 

Social influencers visited the store and spent up to $400 on a pair of shoes in Palessi, which sell for less than $40 at Payless. The influencers, who didn’t have a clue of the stunt, and even commented things like, “Palessi is just such high-quality, high-fashion brand” and “I could definitely wear this shoe to the Met Gala dinner.”

 

Following the campaign and stunt reveal, Payless CMO Sara Couch told Adweek, “The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy [in the fashion industry] and aims to remind consumers Payless is still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion.”

 

Payless’ clever campaign proves PR has power. After this story grabbed headlines and gained millions of social media impressions, everyone was talking about Payless. It’s certainly not every day a low-price shoe store gets national attention.

 

Does your company want to make a big splash in the media in 2019? Contact Lauryn Gray at lauryn@dittoepr.com to set up a consultation and learn more about our services.

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