Are Publicity Stunts Good for PR?

IHOb gets the world talking about pancakes vs. burgers

Last week, IHOP, a.k.a. International House of Pancakes, set into motion a publicity stunt. On June 4, its corporate Twitter account announced:

Individuals immediately began weighing in with their guesses on what the “B” might be. To keep the buzz going, IHOP kept up the rouse online, changing its Twitter handle from @IHOP to @IHOb and even going as far as changing signage on one local store to reflect the new brand.

After a week, the iconic pancake restaurant finally revealed its secret by rolling out a new line of burgers. We’re not really sure IHOP expected what came next. Instead of embracing the restaurant’s strategy to expand its menu in order to attract customers outside of the breakfast hours, most just criticized the brand for adding one more burger into America’s endless options. IHOP’s burger competitors, specifically, roasted the brand on Twitter, giving everyone a good laugh:

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So, days after announcing it would temporarily change its name to International House of Burgers, the question is, did the stunt work?

While it is true that not all of the social conversation and media coverage of IHOb was positive, one thing remains: People were talking about IHOb. So, if IHOP’s goal was to garner awareness of its new menu, then yes, the company succeeded. But, will the stunt result in more patrons to IHOP and sales of its new burgers? Time will tell.

Publicity stunts are nothing new.

Sometimes they generate a quick buzz. On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell convinced America if had bought and renamed the Liberty Bell the “Taco Liberty Bell” thanks to full-page advertisements in seven major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times. The company’s headquarters and the National Park Service received thousands of calls before Taco Bell revealed it was an April Fool’s Day prank.

Sometimes they become iconic. In 1923, LA Times publisher Harry Chandler erected a $21,000 billboard for a suburban housing development called “Hollywoodland.” While it was only intended to stay up for one and a half years, the white “Hollywood” sign is now a famous landmark in LA.

Other times, they turn into annual traditions, such as the Olympic Torch Relay, which began prior to the Berlin games in 1936 as a way to celebrate the passing of the sacred flame, which symbolizes the light of spirit, knowledge and life, from one torch to the next.

Overall, PR stunts are risky. If you are looking for a way to get a quick “15 minutes” of news coverage, then pulling a clever PR trick will likely work. But if you want to build your reputation and achieve long-lasting awareness, then you need something more.

A strategic, calculated PR plan takes time. Often, the tangible effects of a well thought-out strategy may not be seen for six months, one year or longer, but in the end, the results will endure the test of time much better than a short-lived stunt.