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IHOP butters up pancake sales via Instagram-enabled eating contest

Restaurant chain IHOP is drizzling mobile strategy onto its efforts to drive in-store traffic by asking customers to upload photos of their empty stacks of pancake dishes onto Instagram for a chance to win a prize.

IHOP?s Empty Plate Stack Challenge marks the 2016 annual ?All You Can Eat Pancakes? celebration, which is ongoing through February 14. Fans of the quick service restaurant chain are tasked with forming teams of pancake enthusiasts, visiting their nearest IHOP location, consuming as many buttermilk pancakes as possible and uploading their results onto social media.

?Instagram is ideal to visually show the fun that goes into a contest like this,? said Jeff Hasen, founder of Seattle-based Gotta Mobilize and author of The Art of Mobile Persuasion

Bottomless pancakes
IHOP is encouraging fierce competition among consumers with this latest promotion, which is set to appeal to breakfast fans? taste buds. Customers wanting to partake in the contest should put together a team of pancake lovers and visit a nearby IHOP restaurant, where they must order a stack of five buttermilk pancakes or a combination plate of two pancakes and eggs, hash browns and breakfast sausages.

Guests may continue ordering short stacks of pancakes once they have finished these initial meals.

Entrants are then asked to stack all of their empty dishes on the table and snap a photo for a chance to win the title of Empty Plate Stack Challenge champions.

After customers have reached their pancake-eating limit, the empty plates picture should be posted onto photo-sharing application Instagram with the hashtags #Panuary and #Entry. They also must include their team name, as well as the number of pancakes consumed.

Each photo posted on social media will be in the running for a featured spot in IHOP?s Panuary gallery. Additionally, the reigning team will receive customized t-shirts and a 2016 Empty Plate Stack Challenge trophy.

IHOP believes offering memorable in-restaurant experiences is a key factor in driving repeat visits, a strategy which encouraged the brand to leverage the social media-enabled eating contest to boost brand awareness.

2015?s winning team of seven customers consumed a total of 68 pancakes, setting the bar high for this year?s participants.

IHOP is not the only food and beverage marketer tapping into social to garner new followers and drive sales.

Gourmet gifts retailer Harry & David fueled sales for festive occasions by rolling out a social media contest that prompted Instagram and Twitter followers to share their favorite holiday flavors and traditions for a chance to win a prize (see story).

Sweetening up social
IHOP is likely attempting to kick off 2016 with a greater focus on social media and mobile than it has maintained in the previous year. In 2014, the brand hosted a contest enticing crepe lovers to try its new entrees and tweet their favorite using one of two hashtags (see story).

However, 2015 was not as rife with mobile marketing efforts, prompting the quick service restaurant chain to employ more digital communication channels in a bid to reach younger consumers.

To drum up even more attention for the promotion, IHOP would be well-advised to include a Twitter component. If it required participants to retweet a branded photo to receive entry into the contest, its audience outreach would undoubtedly widen.

Some also believe that the sole prize of customized team t-shirts could be more enticing for entrants who spread the word on social media.

?Clearly some will see value in that, but I have to laugh at the prize package ? ?bragging rights and the 2016 Empty Plate Stack Challenge trophy, as well as customized t-shirts,?? Mr. Hasen said.

?What's the matter? A year's supply of syrup is too much to ask? A local radio station or community newspaper puts more on the line."