It starts out as usual: A cook mixes flour, sugar, eggs and blueberries into a creamy, blue-tinged waffle batter. Then there’s a departure: He folds in cubic chunks of rich, New York cheesecake.
The Very Blueberry Cheesecake Waffle is one of IHOP’s two new Waffulicious Waffles, menu items that are equal parts breakfast and social media marketing campaign by the restaurant chain’s parent, Glendale’s DineEquity Inc.
These waffles on steroids follow a formula that has been seized on by the food world recently: artery-clogging combinations that are primed for the look-what-I’m-about-to-eat selfie. Put another way, it’s food designed to be posted and diners might want to eat waffles full of cheesecake. But even more, they want to post photographic proof that they engaged in the event of eating them. And DineEquity and other companies are increasingly betting that new, strange creations can create the next viral hit.
“The age of social media means that every great moment, every meal, every never-seen-before item on a menu comes out into the public and gets shared with a network,” said Kirk Thompson, IHOP’s vice president of marketing. “It’s much more powerful than pure advertising.”
People trust their friends’ recommendations more than the actors in television ads, he said. Someone who reads a friend’s tweet or Facebook post about a delicious, diet-ending-but-worth-it waffle they had for brunch is more likely to actually dine at IHOP than someone who just hears about it. There’s also the fear of missing out. When someone sees that some of their friends are talking about a product, they might try it so they don’t feel excluded from the conversation.
Mary Chapman, the senior director of product innovation at the Chicago restaurant research firm Technomic Inc., said IHOP and other restaurants have seen this strategy work, driving sales and brand awareness.
“The trend is how big can you go? How weird? And so these items are often crafted more for social media buzz than for eating,” she said. “Because of social media, a chain like IHOP that isn’t known for being hip with people in their 20s and 30s can say, ‘Look at this hip thing IHOP is doing.’”
IHOP is far from the first company to consciously choose extreme menu items based on their potential to be Internet sensations. Dominique Ansel Bakery’s cronut – essentially a deep-fried croissant – caused traffic-stopping lines in New York a few years ago, and, of course, there are Irvine chain Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos – crunchy tacos in a shell coated with Doritos flavoring.