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  • Writer's pictureLisa Safran

Truth or Trick? Ethics in Advertising

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

A few weeks ago, IHOP made headlines.

They had us scratching our heads over the skillet flip of the "p" in their company name/acronym to declare that the infamous pancake house was now to be called IHOB - International House of Burgers. Excuse me, what?! Everyone knows that IHOP is best known for breakfast food, not hamburgers. The buzz was fueled by complaints, questions and confusion; had the iconic a.m. eatery gone bananas?

JK on the B part, their CEO said. It didn't take long for IHOB to issue a statement that they were just messing with us. It was simply a ploy to increase awareness on non-breakfast items. Ha-ha, America. Once you're done laughing, remember to come have breakfast AND then lunch and dinner at IHOP. This does not stack up right for me. I feel tricked, duped, lied to, all so that I would pay attention to something that was lagging for them. I'm left to assume that their burger sales are down. Is this my fault? They're crying wolf and I'm not listening.

Advertising should be clever and creative and make the viewer see things in a way they've never seen before. I strongly believe that can happen while still telling the truth. If ethics in advertising is not upheld, then we can say pretty much whatever the heck we want. Not cool. And just because you quickly follow up with the old, "oh, we're just kidding" comment doesn't make it right. It's insulting.

An analyst in a recent USA Today article said it well, "Any marketing ploy that is based on dishonesty says something about your culture. It says you care more about sales than you do integrity.”

So, did the IHOP/IHOB letter switch trick work? Definitely not for me. Granted, it shifted the conversation from french toast to french fries, but how many people have actually gone to IHOP and ordered a burger? OK, maybe once, but what about repeat visits? The proof is in the sales. And if IHOP isn't known for its burgers, then let's be honest, maybe they're just not as good as places like Shake Shack or Five Guys. Maybe they shouldn't be. Maybe the point is that IHOP does breakfast really well. Maybe there's a story that amortizes that strength. Get people thinking more about breakfast for dinner. That I would go for.

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