Even in an instantaneous world, proper marketing takes time
I drove by an IHOP the other day around dinnertime. I was hungry, and I could’ve gone for a burger. But I kept right on driving.
Nevertheless, I made a connection in my head. We’ll get back to that in a minute.
As I write this, it’s been about three weeks since IHOP decided to “change its name” with a little stunt and temporarily call itself IHOb, with the “b” indicating burgers. As with so many ideas these days, it got a big load of publicity in the news and on social media. And once that wad was blown, all the hot takes flooded the marketing world.
“The internet freaked out.” “It’s a fail.” “It didn’t work.” “But everyone’s talking about it.” All of the so-called experts, and non-experts, were ready with a verdict within a few days of the big name change reveal. And now it seems like old news, actually.
How did we get to a point where marketing and advertising campaigns needed to show instantaneous results? Does anyone believe in actually building a brand over time anymore? Who really has the famed short attention span — consumers or marketing people?
Frankly, everyone who’s already proclaimed this promotion a success or failure has absolutely no business commenting on IHOP’s marketing. Or anyone else’s.
Let’s back up a bit. I think we can all easily picture the IHOP client/agency briefing here. “Folks, our traffic falls off a cliff after 11am. No one’s getting a hankering for pancakes at dinnertime, and we have all these servers and cooks doing jack squat all afternoon and evening. Let’s do something about it.” So burgers became the answer — a simple, easy promotion. Along with a stunt to remind people that IHOP sells burgers and hey, the doors are open past noon.
You can decide for yourself — like everyone else has — if IHOP’s stunt was actually good or a bit of a letdown. Messing with a name and established identity, no matter how temporary, always has risks. But I’ll bet no one at IHOP cares much whether the first two days, or even the first two weeks, was a success or not.
It’ll take three months, even a year, of measuring same-store sales to see how effective this effort is. And frankly, IHOP would be idiotic not to actually keep up their marketing and advertising to remind folks that lunch or dinner there is a viable option. Stopping the promotion now would be an amateur mistake.
But these days, marketing folks don’t have that kind of patience. Especially the ones who like to offer their hot takes on LinkedIn or Adweek. We like to reference the “eight-second attention span” of consumers. But I believe they’re actually the ones with longer memories. Marketers are the folks with the true short attention spans.
We live in an era where brands change taglines every year and barely stick with their advertising campaigns — if you can call them actual campaigns anymore — for any significant length of time. All of that exists at the whims of trigger-happy CMOs and their agencies eager to put their own stamp on the brand. It’s no surprise that if you talk to ordinary folks who don’t work in marketing or advertising, they can quote you jingles or taglines that ran decades ago — precisely because they often ran for years or decades at a time and were burnished in their minds.
Ideas need time to build. And money to promote. No one’s going to drive past a pancake restaurant and get a sudden urge for burgers overnight.
The need for fast feedback can be helpful — but it can also be damaging. While early indications of a campaign’s response can guide how it evolves, we’ve become too quick to judge, too quick to condemn, and too quick to yank a marketing effort when it doesn’t immediately spike sales.
And by “immediately” I’m talking about the same day or same week. We must remind ourselves, and our clients, that success doesn’t come overnight. And perceptions of a brand can take years to evolve. Think of how many people heard about the IHOb stunt — and how many more likely haven’t, at least not yet.
As for me, I’ll drop into IHOP for a burger at some point. Like a lot of folks will eventually do if the brand keeps up its marketing. It’ll mean that the campaign was well done, not pulled off the grill before it was fully cooked.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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