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Fast Food Advertisements Don’t Stack Up

May 23rd, 2007

Earlier today, I received an email tip about an interesting photo experiment at thewvsr.com that compared different types of fast food items with their images that are broadcast on television and in print advertisements. Perhaps not surprisingly, the actual foods do not look as attractive as they do in the ads, but in some cases there is a pretty substantial difference.

As many people in this topic’s Digg thread pointed out, the comparison seems somewhat biased due to the varying quality of the photos for the actual products; some of the pictures on the right are noticeably blurry. Even after taking this factor into account, however, it’s clear that the carefully crafted images of food that we see on posters or in the TV commercials do not stack up to the reality of the fast food industry. In addition to the obvious differences in appearance, some of the commentators from the Digg thread who actually worked in fast food restaurants have provided us with some further enlightenment about what to watch out for when ordering fast food items. The thread itself has gotten rather long, so I will summarize some of the most informative tidbits below:

  • When ordering from McDonald’s, there are certain foods that are rarely ordered except during very busy periods such as lunch hour. This means that it is advisable to request that such foods be made fresh when ordering at off-peak times, even if it means waiting a few extra minutes. These foods include Chicken McGrills, Crispy Chicken, Quarter Pounders, and anything with bacon in it.
  • Instead of messing around with those annoying little ketchup packets, you can request that condiments such as ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise be placed in a “Sunday lid” (a small plastic cup) to take with you.
  • Despite what is sometimes portrayed in movies, acts of intentional sabotage by fast food workers is very rare; most employees simply prepare the food in an assembly line fashion and do not interact with customers.
  • In pictures for advertisements, most foods are dressed up with inedible substances in order to enhance appearance. For example, glycerin is often sprayed on meat and vegetable ingredients to make them look fresh and shiny, paint is used in place of sauces, and dyes are often used for coloring.
  • Consumer protection laws in the USA mandate that the main food item displayed in advertisements must be real, but this does not apply to any ancillary food items. In other words, the meat patties in a hamburger commercial need to be real, but the fries or other side items may be artificial.
  • Meanwhile, buried in the middle of the Digg thread was another site that covered the topic of fast food ads vs. reality. This niche blog site at badfoodad.com seems to do a better job of making a fair comparison between the two images. For the most part, the photography is a little better, and the author includes more descriptive content and even assigns an overall letter grade for each product entry. This blog has a good start, but unfortunately it has not been updated for a few months, so its future development at this point is uncertain.


    One Response to “Fast Food Advertisements Don’t Stack Up”

    1. comment number 1 by: ME

      Loved this one - hope more people look at this. We had a TV dinner that certainly would qualify for a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot!

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