I know what I’m supposed to see. IHOP’s new logo–its first update in over 20 years–turned a curmudgeonly old frown into a smile. It’s as if a grizzled, no nonsense diner waitress has warmed up to the entire world of would-be pancake eaters as her regulars. I always knew she was a softy underneath.
“We look at the old logo, and we see a brand-corporate face,” explains IHOP VP of Marketing Kirk Thompson. “We look at the new logo, and we see literally the humanity and comfort of being at an IHOP.”
And indeed, that was the brand brief that the company handed to designers at Studio Tilt, who created the new logo. It was supposed to be something more than a corporate signature stamped on buildings and letterheads, and more a tool to actually convey the experience a customer has with the IHOP brand.
“Welcome to IHOP, sugar.” the new logo says, as it literally smiles at you. “Order as many pancakes as you like! And we’ll keep the syrup coming!”
But the more I look at the new logo, the less I see the smile of a happy, well-adjusted brand persona. And the more I see a mascot that’s just barely holding itself together–a 57-year-old company that showed up to work, only to see all the kids going to “fast casual” restaurants like Chipotle instead of comfy, carb-infused diner huts.
Just look at those eyes. They’re too wide, too eager. And their makeup is running, like they were crying in the bathroom that time we couldn’t find anyone to get a refill on our coffee.
Upon closer inspection, I see the bright blue and red of a circus, the eyes bulging in a combination of caffeine and amphetamines. This isn’t the rounded happy face of a middle America carb eater. This is a clown on the brink of complete psychopathy.
“THANK YOU FOR COMING TO IHOP!” The logo says to me. “Here’s some syrup for ya. IT IS UNLIMITED. You can even drink it! YOU MUST DRINK IT. Because I have a 50 GALLON DRUM IN THE BACK that’s kind of going rancid and DEFINITELY WASN’T USED TO DISSOLVE THE CORPSE OF AN UNWILLING CUSTOMER. Ha ha. NOW OPEN YOUR MOUTH, sweetie. THAT’S RIGHT. THE SYRUP NEVER STOPS FLOWING. It never, ever stops flowing.”
“I think possibly, like all things, everyone’s going to look at it and see various things,” explains Thompson when I float the crazy clown premise. “Most of the people we’ve shown this to really do quickly say, ‘I see a perfect smile. I see the eyes. I see the face.’ Sometimes they see a wink.”