Ihop's New Campaign Shifts Focus Back To Breakfast

Monday, May 21, 2012

IHOP, which for years has tried to establish itself as a good option for lunch and dinner, is returning its focus to its original calling - breakfast.

The morning meal is responsible for more than 60% of IHOP's sales and more than 60% of restaurant industry growth over the last five years. A.M. dining is among restaurateurs' most lucrative segments now because of customers looking for convenience and speed.

Other chains, including Taco Bell and Wendy's, have begun to boost and brag about their breakfast menus.

This week, IHOP launches a new advertising campaign that "starts from the beginning and positions us to take back and own breakfast," said Natalia P. Franco, IHOP's senior vice president of marketing.

"We haven't really celebrated or talked about breakfast for quite some time," Franco said in an interview. "We developed a whole new strategy." IHOP's core consumers are still families, but the chain has also attempted digital and social media outreach to try to draw younger patrons. It now serves a range of more healthful meals under 600 calories. The song featured in the advertisements blends folk, indie and pop music.

IHOP will run a sweepstakes program through Twitter using the hashtag #BreakfastLove. More promotions are en route from Facebook and YouTube.

At one point, breakfast - pancakes, specifically - was IHOP's raison d'etre. But in 2007, IHOP Corp. took over Applebee's International Inc. and changed its name to DineEquity the next year.

Along the way, the Glendale-based company and competitors such as Denny's Corp. began to expand their non-breakfast offerings.

And IHOP has stumbled a bit in the interim, with same store sales down for the last five quarters. Most recently, sales at restaurants open for more than a year slid 0.5% in the first quarter due to a decline in traffic. It's an improvement, however, from the same period a year earlier, when same store sales plunged 2.7%.

"Our business is solid," Franco said. "But of course we have a lot of opportunity for growth. That's the purpose of this strategy: Playing to our strengths and going back to basics." The advertising campaign, whose cost Franco wouldn't disclose, focuses on "the totality of the experience, not one product here or there," she said.

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