Marketing Stunts That Failed So Badly, They Succeeded

Have you ever watched one of those YouTube or Vine compilation videos where they show people failing in the most spectacular of fashions? And do you remember any where the person looks like they tripped or stumbled or fell, but they were able to recover as if nothing ever happened? That’s kind of what happened with two of the biggest marketing stunts in the summer of 2018. And there’s something to be learned from how they played out.

International House of… Burgers?

It’s clear enough that the world is changing at a faster pace than it has ever in the history of human civilization. What’s new and hip and novel today becomes old and tired and boring tomorrow. If you’re not the latest fad, you’re yesterday’s news.

Many traditional vestiges from the past, as a result, continually fight to stay relevant. This is true even with the relatively recent past. BlackBerry was once the king of the smartphone castle. It used to be amazing if your car had heated seats and integrated Bluetooth. How quickly times change. And whereas everyone else seems to be moving toward food trucks, fusion cuisine, and molecular gastronomy, you’ve got old chains like IHOP. That’s just for old folks, right?

And so, they changed their name to IHOb or the International House of Burgers. They got demolished on Twitter by Burger King and Wendy’s, among countless others, for the seemingly ridiculous name change. Why would a pancake house decide to start focusing on burgers instead?

While IHOb became the butt of everyone’s joke for a couple of weeks, it also become the water cooler topic of conversation for those couple of weeks. Prior to this IHOb renaming scheme, nobody was talking about IHOP. And not too many people were going there to eat either, but this marketing stunt brought the name back into the limelight. I can’t say for certain that patronage increased during this time, but I wouldn’t doubt that it did.

Even if “IHOb” name change ended up being a fake, even if it elicited connections to feminine hygiene, it got people talking and they remembered that this restaurant chain even existed. They may have even gone there to eat a burger or two to see if they were any good. It’s a stunt that looked like a giant face palm, but in a strange twist of fate, it kind of worked.

The Build-a-Bear Bonanza

Remember that time I shared the story about Starbucks giving away free iced teas to anyone who wanted them? Remember how I said there were people lining up for over an hour to get their hands on a $3 drink? Remember how I said it’s only free if your time is worthless? Some people never learn.

You might already know about Build-A-Bear Workshop. Kids can go in and select a new stuffed animal, watch it get stuffed right in front of them, and then select several articles of clothing to dress up the bear or bunny or whatever else they got. When they’re done, mom or dad are left ponying up $50 or more, most of which comes from the cost of the teddy’s clothing.

Build-A-Bear decided to host a one-day promotion where kids could get the stuffed animal of their choosing for just their age. A 3-year-old can get a teddy bear for $3. Good deal, right? Well, not exactly. First, the website suffered all kinds of problems leading up to the date, because you had to sign up for their (free) membership before you could qualify. Second, the lineups were atrocious. Some people even camped overnight and most people ended up waiting several hours to get their teddy bears.

Think about this. If the teddy is worth about $25 (clothes are still extra, remember), and you bring your 5-year-old to get it, you’re “saving” $20. Meanwhile, you’ve spent the last six or more hours waiting in line to get it, resulting in a net hourly “wage” of about $3. And that doesn’t factor in for the loss of sanity during those six hours either.

It was a madhouse at just about every location across the country. People said the staff looked exhausted and overwhelmed (because they probably were). People complained on social media about the crazy lineups and how everything seemed so chaotic. But you know what? It got people talking about Build-A-Bear again. It educated people about their birthday promotions and their new designs. And maybe some of these folks bought some clothes for their bears too. Chalk it up to the marketing and advertising budget.

Get the People Talking

Yes, it can feel like both IHOb/IHOP and Build-A-Bear failed pretty hard with their marketing stunts. Yes, it’s true that they attracted all sorts of negative press over how things were handled. But you know what? It got people talking. Both stunts were trending on Twitter and your Facebook feed was likely flooded with mentions too.

If you consider how much a more traditional advertising campaign would have cost to get that same kind of attention, I’d say both brands came out pretty far ahead when all was said and done. Now, the next time you’re thinking about grabbing some pancakes for breakfast, IHOP could indeed be top of mind. And that’s exactly what they wanted all along.