Sunday, September 06, 2009

Oh, IHOP, That Stinks of Meaty Failure

There are times where I wish I could shut off my brain. Like when the clock shows 4 am, and I find myself trying to remember the name of the seafood place in the strip mall off of Route 50 that my family used to go to. "Hey, Brain--don't worry about it," I tell my brain. "Screw you," says my brain, "I'm pretty sure this is more important than you being productive at work tomorrow."

So when I saw Shutdown Corner mention in passing that IHOP* had a new NFL based menu, I really didn't mean to click on the link, and discover it for myself. I didn't want to know, because I knew the potential it had to bother my stupid, stupid brain.

But I did click, and what I saw was a rather unimagintive NFL tie-in, based loosely on the idea that quarterbacks scramble, and that the NFC and AFC have different colors associated with them.

But then my brain started thinking about it, and it has eaten at me ever since. In the long view, this certainly doesn't matter in the least, but please consider how many people have been working on what had to be a soul-crushing project.

IHOP, of course, has a marketing department. One that just decided to start working in the past couple of months, apparently. Honestly, when is the last time you saw an IHOP commercial? Get ready for their big NFL-related push. Get ready to turn to whoever you watch football with and say, "IHOP still exists?"

Marketing is often unfairly maligned, because in a company where marketing has taken over, those companies do stupid shit--please see "Pepsi Clear", "Clear Beer" or "The Hummer". But in a company where actual innovation is happening, and the marketing department is simply told to get the word out--those marketing departments deserve kudos. I will never own an iPhone, but I'm well aware of how cool they are--not because of the engineers who built them, because they are anti-social weirdos, but because of the marketing department, who put together ads that showed all the cool things that the iPhone does. Which is better than having a crazy red haired lady talk about her crazy phone that knows what she is thinking (that was a big fail, Palm Pre).

So IHOP's marketing team decides to do an NFL themed menu. First step--design the menu.

Big corporate chains like this don't rely on the line cook in their Birmingham branch to come up with new ideas, and have those ideas spread spontaneously through the network of IHOPs. IHOP has staff chefs--presumably chefs who went to culinary schools, and had dreams of working with Eric Ripert or Rick Bayless for a few years before they ventured out on their own to start their own molecular gastronomy based restuarant in Aspen, or Austin or something like that. Not a one of them went to culinary school in the hopes of being told to design a breakfast menu around the National Football League. I feel awful for the chefs whose lives have turned out that way.

Now is a good time to mention the money that has already been spent on this project. From whoever had the idea, countless marketing staff people's time have been used. Presumably staff lawyers as well, working to secure the rights to use logos of the NFL, NFC and AFC. Before a single menu item has been designed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time, fees, and copyright procurement has been spent.

And now the chefs get involved, and they aren't just allowed to work on something and have it go out--the marketing folks are involved every step of the way. Some intern in the department remembers that the AFC is traditionally red and the NFC blue. That gets passed to the chefs, who go ahead and suggest a pancake with either blueberry or strawberry. But maybe the market research suggests that strawberries are considered "passe" and IHOP needs to consider raspberries. Marketing folks and Chef like folks argue over which fruit makes the most sense, and almost certainly, some accountant comes and notes that strawberries are cheaper to procure by a cent or two per pound, if the acquisition of the strawberries is done through the right channels.

The strawberry vs raspberry argument alone costs thousands and thousands of dollars. You may not believe that--but I'm guaranteeing 10 highly paid people weighed in on that.

So now, you've got NFC and AFC stuffed pancakes, and French Toast that look like footballs. Great!

The marketing department intern also notes that both quarterbacks and eggs are things that scramble (perhaps after getting high and watching an episode of classic $50,000 Pyramid on the Game Show Network). The chefs are handed a new job--come up with egg scrambles that reflect a QB's development.

The chefs seethe and whine, and declare that this is not what they went to school for (and they are right, but here they are). Eventually, they come up with a scale of scrambles--from rookies to veterans, the scrambles getting meatier as the QB's age.

Another few tens of thousands of dollars went into the development of those scrambles, with a particular round of applause in the test kitchen going to the chef who came up with the egg-substitute, vegetarian friendly (though not vegan-friendly--parmesan cheese?) scramble. The cooks will be exasperated to learn that the marketing department has decided to call that one "The Draft Pick". Chefs: "It is a vegetarian scramble with fresh spinach and onions and fruit on the side. Why not call it that?" Marketers: "'The Draft Pick' is catchy!"

So the menu is now set, with hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars spent--now the menu has to be spread amongst all the IHOPs. Special molds are made for the cream filled football shaped french toast. Chefs are dispersed throughout the country to show the head chefs at IHOP franchises how to make this brand new, totally awesome football related shit.

Travel, training, new equipment for hundreds of restuarants. If we aren't into the million of dollars for this temporary menu item, we are getting awfully close. I bet the marketing department has a way to spend more money. Let's look in on them:

Marketer 1: OK, we've got this new extreme NFL menu--how do we sell it?
Marketer 2: I've got it! We get an NFL player, and film him doing crazy things. We make it look super-real, and tie the breakfast to that somehow.
Marketing Intern: I think the NFL Network has already done that.
Marketer 1: Shut up--we're on to something here--how about we put the NFL player in an IHOP?
Marketer 2: Like a receiver, just catching stuff?
Marketer 1: Brilliant! I love it!
Marketing Intern: But Dick's Sporting Goods did exactly that with Andre Johnson, and have been doing it with different sports guys for like a year and change.
Marketer 2: Shut up. How much money do you think it would take to get Larry Fitzgerald? He's hot right now. I dig his braids.
Marketing Intern: Look, it makes sense for Andre Johnson to sell Dick's Sporting Goods--while people know he doesn't shop there, they do believe they can buy the exact same shoe he wears, or gloves, or whatever. No one is ever going to believe that Larry Fitzgerald, who has like 4% body fat, eats at IHOP. Or that he orders cream filled french toast. This is a horrible idea.
Marketer 1: You are fired, Marketing Intern. You are too negative. Let's go see how much Larry Fitzgerald costs, and pay it.
Marketer 2: This is the most original idea ever. We've earned our huge paychecks this past 6 months.

The only thing left is buy copious ad time, and possibly throw some money down the fucking toilet. Dear IHOP: we are in the middle of a recession--don't waste money on this shit. I know it is too late for this advice, but if you had asked me ahead of time what I thought, that is what I would have said. Totally awesome YouTube channel, though. I'm guessing you paid some web-developers for that, and I bet they totally gouged you on it. Are you getting a lot of subscribers? No? SHOCKING. Who doesn't want to see the next commercial from a breakfast chain dedicated to pancakes? You have 12,000 views for your Larry Fitzgerald commercial. I have double that for a Kyle Orton interception in preseason.

Oh, IHOP. You make me sad.

*that's International House of Pancakes, to you Breakfast Chain noobs. Also, there was once a time when places like Shoney's and Big Boy were spread across the continent. Like bison.

1 comment:

Andrew Wice said...

I saw this ad yesterday watching college football. My reaction when the goo comes out of the thing? I yelled, "Gross!"

That was my gut talking.

I just thank god that Big BM didn't have to eat at IHOP as part of his investigation. Gives a bad meaning to Deep Throat