Rebranding, whether for real or just for a PR stunt, can be tricky. One wrong move in the new logo, new product, or new name, and brands risk alienating their existing customer base. This can cost companies millions of dollars and weeks or months of labor. Some are even forced to revert to their original look and feel shortly afterward.

Luckily, regardless of success or failure, rebrands create a lot of buzz on the Internet, making it quick and easy for you to research and learn from their experiences.

IHOP makes a great example as last year, as it faked rebranding to IHOb for about a month. The business received overwhelmingly negative as well as some positive responses. Some critics called it a desperate attempt to promote their not-so-great burgers. Others, myself included, called it a genius move to get people talking about their brand.

Here is why I think this was a great move by IHOP.

1. It took a risk and did something nobody had done before.

Burgers weren't new to the IHOP menu. In fact, IHOP has been serving burgers since they first opened. But no one had heard about them because the previous burger promotions hadn't worked in their favor.

IHOP knew they had to make a bold move and came up with a fun idea of flipping the uppercase "P" to a lowercase "b" for burgers, and not telling the public about the burger part right away. This shocked the public on many levels. First of all, no one expected a pancake brand to become a burger brand. If anything, breakfast made more sense than burgers.

"We knew that there would be some blowback from some people because anytime there's something that's this disruptive, you're going to get some people that are confused by it," IHOP CMO Brad Haley told American Marketing Association.

Sure enough, their fans on Twitter, as well as other burger chains, mocked them for it, but it didn't discourage IHOP. They had carefully planned out the campaign around the element of surprise and a guessing game.

2. It brought massive attention to an unknown menu item.

As I mentioned in the previous section, most people didn't know IHOP served burgers even though that has been the case since the very beginning. Its main goal with the fake rebrand was to drive burger sales.

According to the American Marketing Association, in just 10 days, IHOP had earned over 1.2 million tweets, 27,000 earned media stories, 42.5 billion impressions, and $113 million in earned media value.

Furthermore, AMA notes that "IHOP quadrupled burger sales at the peak of the campaign, and sales are still double what they were before the rebrand fake-out."

Who could have predicted that the concept of a pancake house turning into a burger joint would be so intriguing that even some critics found their way to a local IHOP? I really believe the team at IHOP could have predicted it to a certain level.

3. It didn't go viral for the sake of going viral.

Some of the biggest criticisms faced by IHOP were based around the myth that it was just trying to go viral with the fake rebrand. Any good marketer will agree that "going viral" is not a sustainable strategy. Without a clear purpose and a call to action, it takes too much time and energy to keep up with the commotion.

Yes, IHOP did benefit from virality and they were known as IHOb for a month, but it also had a new "Steakburger" menu, making this a timely campaign. Some people loved the burgers, others hated them, but we can all agree that IHOP's real strength lies in the pancakes, not the burgers.

We know IHOP wouldn't seriously try to brand themselves after its lesser-known burgers. IHOP's customers wouldn't expect the business to be serious about it either.

If you're thinking of rebranding, remember these important lessons from IHOP. Also, if you haven't already done so, give IHO pancakes and burgers a try.

So long, IHOb!

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.