Fast Food Ads Vs Reality

We’ve posted on this topic before with Tengaport’s flickr pic of the Wendy’s Spicy whatever sammich vs reality. Since we liked that post so much we were delighted to see that someone had made a serious study of the topic. —MEGHANN MARCO

Fast Food: Ads Vs Reality (Thanks, Alex!)


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  1. bpotterr says:

    I always knew this was the case, but it’s nice to see it laid out so neatly. Also good to know that this is a “Pulitzer-caliber project.”

  2. ferris209 says:

    Wendy’s came pretty close. Good project, I’d like to see this continue. I’d bet the restaurants would get better consistency if this kept going and caught steam.

  3. TechnoDestructo says:

    I did worse than that once when I worked at McDonald’s.

    There just isn’t time, personnel, or space to make the burger look like the ad. Accept it. You get what you pay for, and in this case, you just aren’t paying for it.

    Also, the burger on the right looks more appealing to me. Looks more real, I guess. Looks like it has more of what I want. Salt, fat, moisture. Not order.

  4. ShadeWalker says:

    man, it’s just like that time i got that mail-order-bride.

    *shakes fist at photoshop*

  5. LAGirl says:

    i just lost my appetite.

  6. Greeper says:

    damn that looks good. fucking atkins.

  7. cracker002 says:

    The problem with that Whopper isn’t how it looks. It looks fine. This problem is that it will taste like crap. If you want a burger, eat a real one, not processed crap like Burger King’s.

  8. AcidReign says:

    …..Mmm. Brown, wilted lettuce. I’m glad I’ve already had lunch…

  9. xdrunkagainx says:

    I lived over in Japan for 3 years and every time I went to a McDonalds the burgers looked just like the picture. Maybe it was they actually gave a shit about their Mcjobs.

  10. faust1200 says:

    This concept works well with internet dating also.

  11. Hoss says:

    That “KFC Bowl” makes me wonder why the Manhattan rats eat there?

  12. siblog says:

    Great idea! I think that this should be continued and take focus at restaurants as well. Places like Chili’s, Outback, Red Lobster, etc always have these amazing ads with plates of food that look like they could be $50…but when you get there it is a major let down.

  13. Buran says:

    I wonder when someone will go after them for false advertising. But then they probably have some stupid rule that lets them weasel out of posting honest photos.

    But what’s with the different standards when real-estate agents get in trouble, too, for “cleaning up” photos they use in listings?

    Dishonest photos are dishonest photos.

  14. zolielo says:

    One can get a burger that looks similar to the one in the add. They are generally $20 to $30 and found in hotels.

  15. Kos says:

    I’ve actually had the experience of ordering a BigMac that looked as good as the photo when travelling through Switzerland. I remember taking out the burger and being shocked that it looked just like the photo on the wall. Of course, the extra value meal cost $13 USD and this was in 1995.

  16. slapstick says:

    Pfft, Zillions covered this topic years ago!

    Oh man, I haven’t thought about Zillions in ages. I wonder how many young Consumerists used to read its tween financial advice…

  17. ViewFromHere says:

    The ad photos look like Glamour Shots of the actual product. The air brushing, just right lighting, etc. can make just about anything look edible. Yuk!

  18. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    Carls Jr. has to be among the worst. Seriously, everything you get from there looks like it’s been shaken up and run over by a car. I have had to restrain myself from going back through the drive-thru and just hurling it through the window.

    Also, take a gander at the Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza….ooohhh…looks all cheezy and stuff but when you open the box (purchased in a severe moment of weakness, naturally), you are greeted with a hardened dried up piece of white bread, some sauce and three pieces of dehydrated cheeze food…oh, and that pepperoni? it’s all crowded onto one end of the “pizza”…Gah.

  19. markio says:

    When making these ads, they have people that specialize in making these products picture perfect. They don’t even use real food in some photos. I thought the pics of the actual products looked pretty tasty. Time for lunch!

  20. DCKiwi says:

    The Filet Fish is the only one that looks the same in both pictures.

  21. The Bigger Unit says:

    Hey, I give ’em bonus points for having each half of the bun on the thing.

  22. indianaguy says:

    how is this even a story? everybody knows this. like a previous poster stated, you get what you pay for

  23. bambino says:

    @slapstick: Zillions! Man do I remember that mag. I read it even before it was zillions, when it was ‘Penny Power!’. Damn my mom was smart.

  24. madktdisease says:


    I did! Oh my god, I remember that! I distinctly remember the review of Blind Melon they did said “They should have been called Deaf Melon”. Hyuk. I loved that magazine!

  25. bitplayer says:

    I know someone that used to shoot cereal commercials. They don’t even use real milk, they use glue. Generally they do use real food, so as not to break the law, but the food is usually treated in some manner to make it look perfect.

  26. homerjay says:

    Does it really matter? I mean, how long does it really have to look attractive for? You open the wrapper and commence gorging.

  27. partyone says:

    And please do not ask the business to make the meal look like the picture. I asked a manager at Taco Bell to fix my nachos belgrande to look more like the picture, and she had the audacity to sho me the scooping device that they use to measure the food. Disgusted I walked away. Only to have her come back to my table with a packet of the curros. All I wanted was more meat.

  28. slolobdill44 says:

    i fell victim to the Taco Bell nachos as well. The picture just looked so irresistible, but what i actually got was just a measured amount of different processed foods thrown together in a little plastic plate.

  29. winnabago says:

    This is a cool project. What would be great is a third photo for each that shows the little card they have in the back instructing the line workers to make these items. Like Pizza Hut’s diagram of a perfectly even pepperoni pizza that they have to use.

  30. notebook says:

    Oh, come on, who doesn’t know this? ‘Sides… all you want is a quick meal. All it needs to do is look edible for the five seconds after the wrapper’s before it’s down your throat.

    Bonus points to Wendy’s, though. Their food actually looks good.
    I wonder why Taco Bell isn’t in here…

  31. bluwapadoo says:

    I seriously cannot believe that there were all these posts but no mention of “Falling Down”.

  32. RetroChristal says:

    I seem to remeber that Zillions article saying something about how all the food in the ads had to be real food, but it didn’t have to be what was shown. I think they said something about Ice cream being made of shortening. Damn, I hadn’t thought about Zillions in years.

  33. Triteon says:

    @markio: When selling food the food products shown must be real…they can be dressed up, Minwax-ed (think turkey), glued (sesame seeds), etc. but must be real.
    What you may have had in mind were products like breakfast cereal in advertisements, where the cereal is real but the white stuff ain’t milk, it’s generally Elmer’s glue. That big dollup of whipped cream on top of the advertised slice of pie? By Mennan…..

  34. bluwapadoo says:

    Sorry about the music.

  35. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger is bigger than the bun in the picture, and smaller than the bun in reality. That’s not dressing up, it’s false advertising.

    It’s still a good deal, mind you. Just take down the stupid pictures.

  36. mst3kzz says:

    Yep, food has to be real, but there are a lot of sneaky tricks that are used in the commercials, such as choosing the best looking fries and toothpicking them into a chunk of styrofoam so they look like they’re spilling out of the container, cook the outside of the burger as much as possible and don’t worry about the inside (it won’t show) so that it will be bigger than the fully-cooked version and make an incision on the back of said burger so that you can spread out the front to also make it look wider, and then tactfully arrange all the toppings and condiments near the front as well to make them look more generous and appealing.

    Also, they get away with the glue milk because they are not selling milk, they’re selling cereal. There are people who do this for a living.

    I can’t say I blame them. I mean who would run out and buy that Wendy’s Spicy sandwich if it had a bunch of dents in it on the commercial?

  37. Sofa-King says:

    This has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. Often you make your selection based on how the food looks in their photos and when you get your order it looks nothing like the photo.
    I want the burger with the meat that is the same size or bigger than the bun. The photos show pickles all around but when I get a burger there is one pickle off to one side.
    I started a web page similar to the one shown at the link but have not posted it publicly yet. I’ve bought food and then taken photos of it right on the counter with the workers in the background and gotten some very bad looks.
    I would like to start a movement to force these restaurant to make the food look more like their photos or the photos to look like what you will actually get. Now would that be great advertising?
    I think if I pursue this it would result in many law suits, but then I’ll get my 15 minutes of fame.
    In the mean time I have stopped eating at many fast food places just because the food looks like it’s was prepared while wearing boxing gloves.
    It’s time for everyone to say “I’m not taking this any more”.

  38. unamericanvalues says:

    Seeing as how the utilizations of real food in commercials is required by law, it’s just that these ad makers have gotten smart and have manipulated this food into something beautiful, but inedible. With that said I’d like to see these low paid workers be able to produce the food you see in the picture, but truth is they just don’t have enough time, effort, energy, training, or motivation to make food that looks like the picture.

    As someone already said before you get what you pay for and quite frankly you aren’t paying for much at a fast food restaurant. If you want food which looks as if it was just taken out of the advertisement and tastes as tantalizing, then go to a five star restaurant just be prepared to fork over ten dollars for a baked potato.

  39. Artest Pilot says:

    The glue/milk substitute for cereal is a little bit nostalgic. Mini Wheats + Elmer’s = A very happy kid in me.

  40. Wasabe says:
  41. Wasabe says:

    Whoops, html-snafu. He said

    Even in a nation that has made the bulk fast-food bolus something of a culinary art, KFC’s Famous Bowls are somehow splendidly, transcendently awful. Perhaps it’s because, if you retain any of your childhood aversion to foods touching, the Famous Bowls will send you shrieking into traffic. Perhaps it’s because it so brazenly exposes its own purpose: to economically pack the gullets of the poor. Gone is even the pretense that someone might eat this for its taste. This is gerbil food for the disenfranchised. One KFC marketing exec, in a moment of linguistic clarity I’ll bet he wishes he had back, is quoted as saying the meals are directed at “heavy fast-food users.” Never was the connection between fast food and addictive drugs made more explicit.

  42. humphrmi says:

    What kills me are those salads that McDonald’s sells, you know the ones that show fresh ingredients quickly tossed together in such a way that clearly each bite will render a tasty combination of ingredients.

    Then you get it, and the ingredients aren’t even in the salad. You get roughly a bowl of lettuce and maybe the chicken (if that’s how you ordered it) on top, and packages of the remaining ingredients for you to assemble your salad yourself.

    The only difference between this and going to my local grocery store is, at least I don’t have to walk around picking up the items individually (although I’m sure they’re working on that aspect).

  43. shdwsclan says:

    I remember the arch delux, that was pretty good and it actually came pretty close to the ad. I wonder why mcdonalds got rid of them….or they didnt, I dont go to mcdonalds a lot….about once a year…

    Same thing with quiznos, you know…i still go to subway….
    I went to quiznos to try it, i say a mexican that barely spoke english weighed meat on a DIRTY scale and stuffed it in my sandwitch. I though twice about eating it…but since I paid, i ate it….i did get sick, never went back to quiznos, and never will go there again…
    There is really no differnce between using a convection oven with a conveyor belt, versus a stationary one. May fresh meat may be one thing, but when you have disguisting employees handling it, is another. Subway has hairnets,and gloves and no greasy scales.
    Those rats they had in the commercials were no coincidence.

    Hey, has anyone eaten at a european subway, i dont thing they are following the guidelines of the company. In america you get a bun packed with mean, cheese etc…..There you get a something that looks like a hotdog…

    Its not exactly false advertising since. I learned about this in my technical comms class in college. Its kinda like showing graphs with different scales….one that shows differences as huge [x and y are changed so that differences between bars seem huge] and another full graph that shows that the actual graph, that show the changes are actually miniscule as compared to the rest of the graph. Both graphs contain the same data in essence.

    So i mean, to make the burger in the ad costs $20-30 to make, the one in reality is more like a couple of dollar to make. They are both essentially the same thing.

    False advertising has to be gross to be recognized. Its like a backup batter being advertised as 500A when in fact it was 250A. Even sometimes casing of a product is different than advertised in the box, but if its still rack mount and and has all the same features, then its not flase advertising…..
    Same with the burger, it will still be a colon clot at the end of the day.

  44. psm321 says:


    Zillions rocked! Too bad they stopped publishing it. (and didn’t even give a partial refund for the subscription). I actually thought of writing them a letter about that using their own template for writing to companies. :-D

  45. markio says:


    So are you calling him disgusting because he’s Mexican? Or was he just dirty? Do you not like Mexicans or something?

  46. Con Sumer Zealot says:

    I think the marketers that do this day in and day out should have their face smeared in and force fed what is in the second picture until they stop the practice, but that’s just me :)