Bizarre Brand Hits and Misses – What We Can Learn From Them

Today’s marketing campaigns seem to be all about eliciting the most conversation. Social media has become a powerful driver for business success, an idea with which Fortune 500 companies are all too familiar. Over the years, we’ve seen some truly bizarre social media and content marketing campaigns with varying degrees of success. Some take on a viral nature that leads to more sales, while others just leave the world scratching their heads. The last few months have been no exception – what did you think of these viral marketing campaigns? Were they hits or misses? We’re weighing in with our own verdicts.

1. The IHOb Debacle

International House of…Burgers? It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but that’s exactly what Americans woke up to one June morning- to find that everyone’s favorite purveyor of fluffy flapjacks changed its name to promote its new burger menu. No, they reassured panicked citizens, hotcakes would still be on the menu. In fact, you could stroll into an IHOb and order a steak burger topped with an egg and served with a side of hashbrowns and pancakes – because IHOb believes in the American dream, which gives people the right to choose what they want to eat, regardless of the time of day or what it says on the outside of the building.

Still, the population encountered the news with no small amount of trepidation.  Devotees of the chain called the move unwelcome and bizarre. Wendy’s, a Twitter account known for its snark, quipped, “can’t wait to try a burger from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.” Panic ensued. And IHOP/IHOb dominated the social media cycle for the better part of a week.

In fact, it’s still making news. It recently revealed that it’s “rebranding” was simply a (gasp!) marketing ploy to promote their burger menu. Did it work?

It can be hard to tell, without earning numbers available. Both IHOP and its sister company Applebee’s have been flailing since 2017 when the parent company’s CFO quit unexpectedly. Still, IHOP/IHOb did take over part of the news cycle, if even for a couple days. That has to be worth something, whether it was increased burger sales or people running in to get a stack of pancakes before they disappeared forever.

2. Toys R Us

No company has experienced such a bizarre rise and fall this year as mega company Toys R Us. Some argue that the company was already on a fatal crash course when Dominos CEO-turned shamed University of Michigan athletic director-turned Toys R Us CEO Dave Brandon took the helm in 2015. Despite several assurances that the brand was here to stay, Brandon ultimately announced the liquidation of all its stores in March 2018. The events that followed can only be described as bizarre.

Issac Larian, a billionaire owner of the Bratz dolls, started a GoFundMe account for the store, pledging to save enough money to save the ailing brand. The Twitter hashtag #saveToysRUs went viral. Users lamented the downfall of an iconic franchise, one more victim in the rise of the digital age.

Toys R Us, for its part, handled the situation with gusto. One employee posted a photo of Geoffrey the Giraffe with a packed suitcase, surrounded by empty store shelves. It received more than 300,000 shares. Customers covered stores in handwritten notes as if staging a memorial to the brand.

Still, it seems nothing could save this brand. Toys R Us created content for its audience to the end, but some marketing experts wonder if a stronger digital marketing presence could have stopped the downward spiral.

3. Wendy’s Trolling Anyone

Wendy’s, the prolific burger chain that claims to serve their beef fresh and never frozen, has developed an odd reputation for trolling companies on Twitter. It started in late 2017, when it started to heckle McDonalds over its freezing and preparation processes. In the months that followed, the burger company became known for calling out both individuals and companies for their business practices or online trash talking. In fact, they take pride in their snark and witty repartee, which they highlight on their Twitter Bio:

“We like our tweets the same way we like to make hamburgers: better than anyone expects from a fast food joint.”

In the recent months, Wendy’s has taken aim at IHOP, McDonald’s, and individuals who pose questions about their food. In fact, Wendy’s Twitter has become so popular that it’s been the subject of many a listicle outlining its best Tweets. Roasting seems to be an odd approach to doing business, but it seems to work.

Some of the weirdest advertising campaigns are the one most likely to go viral. Unfortunately, going viral is only part of the puzzle. The rest lies in whether the company can deliver quality solutions to the masses – of which some of these companies seem to fare better than others.

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Sarah Voigtman

Sarah is a native Michigander and mother of three. She spends her spare time searching for the perfect burger recipe and navigating the tumultuous waters of parenthood.

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