June 24, 2018

ihob, Amazon, and other logo smiles


A surprising number of people asked me during the pastthe IHOB logo few weeks if I was in any way responsible for the “ihop/ihob name change” controversy. They know I’m in the re-naming business, and asked in the tone of “can you believe they’d be that stupid?”

I pleaded not guilty, but I also had to tell them they had fallen for a head fake. IHOP executed the whole “flipping the p to a b” stunt disguised as a permanent name change. With a straight face, they drummed up awareness for a mysterious new b coming to the menu. The “b is for burgers!” payoff is a textbook case – how smart PR can get a free-media multiplier. Watercooler talk is gold.

So, the (wink wink) rebrand worked. I still ain’t gonna eat there.

The International House of Pancakes is a gathering place where future diabetics can load up on whipped-cream-smothered meals. Popular (and dubiously International) as that concept may seem, consumers’ imagined dinner options may not begin with synthetic maple syrup oozing over chocolate-chip pancakes. Thus, a franchisee might do well at breakfast, survive lunch, but be painfully lonely by sundown.

The answer: Burgers!

Burgers all day and night! Hey, nobody thought of that before, right? You can assume they’ll find a way to load 31g of sugar into each entrée somehow. Ya know, for the kids.

The biggest reason to prevent any name change is, of course, the enormous brand equity they have in the name and logomark. It features an isn’t-sweetness-sweet? smile. The O and P create a raccoon-like eyes-nose, over the curved lipstick smear. Flipping the last letter would wreck that. The mark has for years reassured toddlers that no, bucko, you won’t have to endure broccoli here.

There’s a blizzard of logos featuring smiles, a fairly obvious design option for almost any service business that’s not a funeral home. They aren’t always effective, but the IHOP one is cheerily done.

We respect Amazon’s more. It uses a smile for the usual we’re-so-friendly reason – but it’s also an arrow that points from A to Z, indicating, well, a-to-z completeness. What can’t you buy at Amazon? That nuance is about as subtle (and therefore as interesting) as the “hidden” arrow in the e-x of the FedEx logo. Once you see that refinement, you never un-see it.

My favorite (at the risk of immodesty) is a logo we created

We did it for Child’s Voice, a school for children born with severe or total hearing deficits. Child's voice logo and taglineAfter a child is surgically fitted with a cochlear implant, the school’s amazing teachers and astounding program perform wonders.

They teach them to hear, and speak, and even sing. (I vividly remember sitting in a class of 4-year-olds who were happily belting out a song – on key.) These kids graduate to get streamed into first or second grade. They thrive in regular classrooms, with no aides, no sign language, and needing no special accommodation. Many excel in schoolwork and life, as you’d expect – since they’ve already been diligent, successful learners before the age of five!

Our logo turned the D into a big joyful smile, and the apostrophe represents where a cochlear implant goes, behind the ear. We added a kick-ass IMHO tagline, too: “You’ll be hearing from us.”

So, no, we didn’t do the ihob stunt, but if you know someone thinking about a real rebranding, renaming or logo rehab project, let’s hear from them. Here is where they (or you) should start.

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