IHOP Livestreamed Some Pancakes on a Beach and It’s the Brand’s Top Social Video Ever

Flapjacks, seagulls and a bearded guy go viral

Headshot of Christine Birkner

Summer's here, and that means it's time for tropical vacations, and, courtesy of IHOP, tropical pancakes and quirky Facebook Live videos to promote them.

On June 9, IHOP ran its first Facebook Live videos to tout its new Paradise Pancakes, which come in flavors like strawberry passion fruit, banana macadamia nut and pineapple upside down. "Setting up a Facebook livestream that's about enjoying the pancakes in a paradise environment was a perfect way to involve our guests, as opposed to just posting a picture of the pancakes," said Kirk Thompson, svp of marketing at IHOP.

The three videos were minimalist. Three stacks of flapjacks appeared on a table on a beach, with no sound except light rolling waves in the background.

"It was about the pancakes being the hero. It's a great way to spotlight the pancakes, play up the paradise theme, and not be overly promotional. It lets everyone focus on the pancakes, and then interact with them," Thompson said.

Occasionally a flock of seagulls flew by, and various props—a beach cooler, a pot of coffee—entered and exited the shots.

"People commented and said, 'Oh that's a green screen. Maybe it's on an endless loop like the Matrix.' So, we interacted with it," Thompson said. "We put a coffee mug on the table, we made sure trucks went by with surfboards on them, or people would walk toward the ocean to make it obvious that they weren't walking into a green screen."

At the end of one of the videos, a man with a beard pops in to take a bite of one of the pancakes, then quickly disappears. Fans watching the video naturally began commenting on "Beard Guy." One said, "Do we get to know beard guy's name or is he forever IHOP Beard Guy?" and another, "Beard Guy lives under the table: confirmed."

"Everything we did across the course of the livestream that was beyond the pancakes generated an unbelievable response," Thompson said. "The beard guy generated a response; the seagull was an enormous piece of conversation; so was the pouring of coffee. We were surprised by the amount of comments each stream got."

With 385,000 video views, the effort was IHOP's top-performing social video to date, and the company plans to do more Facebook livestreams in the future. "We had a captive audience for 171,000 minutes. We also had a high volume of comments indicating intent to visit IHOP, so, mission achieved," Thompson said.

The effort is part of a larger promotion for the pancakes, he added. "It wasn't intended to be a stunt. It's the start of our promotion: We'll create GIFs; we'll create more content. It's a great step for us to take our social media past social posts, and make it much more about engaging in those real moments with our guests."

IHOP's other social efforts have included Snapchat filters, sending personalized Twitter messages to fans, and a social media war room for National Pancake Day in March. The brand has made a bigger investment in digital and social, which act as parallels to its TV messaging, Thompson said.

"Digital and social is a much richer, robust environment for us. The immersive experience of Facebook Live brought a lot of attention to the pancakes, and to the personality of the brand. We get so much brand love back from our fans and followers, and the best way we know to participate in social are in ways that are fun."

But if you want to visit the tropical paradise that was featured in the videos, you're out of luck. "We can't disclose the tropical location," Thompson said. "I have to protect those VIP pancakes. They're vacationing in privacy."

@ChristineBirkne christine.birkner@adweek.com Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.