Food Advertising Reality Check: Pizza And Burger Edition

This doesn’t quite qualify as “unacceptable food.” More like “food that doesn’t look quite like depicted in the ads.” We bring disappointing photographs of a frozen pizza from fancy-pants grocer Whole Foods, and a humble cheeseburger from Jack in the Box.

The first photo comes from Steven, who received this Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack in the Box. Expecting something that at least remotely resembled the promo image above, he received a sandwich that looked like it had been stomped on. “Did I eat it? Yes,” he wrote. “Was it good? No. It was merely OK.”

Clearly this would NOT have happened on Blake’s watch.

Meanwhile, Emily brought home this delicious-looking frozen pizza from Whole Foods. She discovered the cold, hard reality when she opened the package: the exterior photo was a bit deceiving. She wrote:

Opening the package was a bit of a let down, especially since one of the edges of the pizza was bent at a 90 degree angle.

The chicken is really the most misleading part of the photo.

(It tasted yummy, though!)

RELATED: Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality


Edit Your Comment

  1. bornonbord says:

    Sorry Emily – cook it, then compare. That’s apples ‘n oranges, I’m afraid.

    Don’t get me wrong, even cooked I’m sure it didn’t look right, but the uncooked frozen product vs. a cooked product is not fair at all. No sympathy.

    • Baccus83 says:

      @bornonbord: Seroiously. I wouldn’t compare a frozen cheeseburger to a picture of an actual cheeseburger. Although I probably wouldn’t want to eat a frozen cheeseburger anyway. Why should it be different for pizza?

    • JPropaganda says:

      @bornonbord: That’s what I was thinking!

    • korybing says:

      @bornonbord: Yeah exactly. I wouldn’t get disappointed till AFTER it comes out of the oven. The picture on the box is a cooked pizza, the thing in the box is a frozen pizza. You can’t compare them yet.

      I’m sure it won’t look exactly like the box photography, but it should be closer.

      The more important point, though, is how do these things TASTE? Usually I don’t care what my food looks like as long as it tastes good.

    • katstermonster says:

      @bornonbord: And to top it off, the frozen pizza’s appearance isn’t that bad. It looks like it could feasibly cook up to looking like the box.

    • nataku8_e30 says:

      @bornonbord: Agreed – if you evenly distribute the toppings a little bit, and cook it (I’m sure the “fold” would come out once it heats up) it will probably look pretty decent.

      • korybing says:

        @nataku83: Nearly every frozen pizza I’ve bought has been smushed on one side, just because at some point in it’s life it was shipped vertically. They almost always smooth out in the oven.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        @nataku83: So why doesn’t anyone ship pizza like that – with the crust and toppings separate. That way, you have the added benefit of being able to control the amount of cheese/pepperoni/sausage/arugula/whatever that goes on the pie. This would be great for the family where somebody simply hates Ingredient X on his/her pizza.

        I doctor up DiGiorno pizzas all the time, but frozen pepperoni slices tend to break off, and it’s generally a pain in the butt to do supreme pizzas so that one or more slices doesn’t get any onions. It would be nicer if the ingredients were in separate little bags.

        • fantomesq says:

          @HurtsSoGood: People would complain that they have to put it together.

        • oneandone says:

          @HurtsSoGood: I think that’s a great idea. It would be good to keep the option of totally pre-made for people who just want to pop it out of the box, but I would enjoy little packets. And any children participating in the prep might enjoy it as well – it becomes a little project. Like when you get to customize your pizza bagel.

          /pizza bagels for lunch!

        • c_c says:

          Just get a cheese frozen pizza and buy and chop your own veggies / meats. Cheaper anyway. Or even better, make your own pizza. Yum.

        • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

          @HurtsSoGood: I nannied for a family that just bought the parts — premade crusts, jars of sauce, industrial-sized shredded mozzarella containers, and then various toppings. Their TWO-year-old could make his own pizzas (on the mini-crusts) … you’d dump him some sauce and he’d spread it around with a wooden spoon, throw cheese all over it, and then carefully place his preferred toppings (usually olives). It always ended up with like all the sauce on one side and spotty cheese, but HE didn’t care — he ate the whole thing because HE got to make it.

          Anyway, very easy to do this yourself. My Kroger often even has an end-cap display with the premade crusts, mozzarella, and sauce all right there (usually with pepperoni).

    • Scoobatz says:

      @bornonbord: Not a good comparison.

      I just made a frozen pizza last night from California Pizza Kitchen. I thought the same thing when I took it out of the box. However, after it was cooked, it really didn’t look that bad after all.

    • PinkBox says:

      @bornonbord: I’ve had that exact same pizza before. I arranged it a bit, cooked it, and it didn’t look much different from the image on the box at all.

  2. discounteggroll says:

    not blaming the victim here, but frozen pizza usually looks like crap regardless of where it’s from. re-arrange the chicken, throw it in the oven and I’m sure it will look more like what’s shown on the box.

  3. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    I’m still looking for the ‘chunks’ in StarKist Chuck Light Tuna.

  4. joecoolest says:

    Making plastic sculptures of foods that doesn’t exist then marketing it really blurs the border between immoral and illegal in my mind. Would it be too much if we were to require ad agencies to depict food as it appears when purchased through the same channels as consumers? Would people still buy it? Would companies still buy ads?

    • h3llc4t, breaker of office dress codes says:

      @joecoolest: Think about the last fast food meal you purchased. If it looked like that on a billboard, would you still have gotten a craving for it? Probably not.

    • pop top says:

      @joecoolest: They don’t make plastic sculptures, they use actual food, but the ad agencies have crazy ways of making it look the way they do. I watched a special on it years ago and one thing they do with whole turkeys is they run an iron over it so it looks cooked, and since they’re using steam, it looks juicy and moist as well.

      • FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

        @squinko: I rather like the vaseline trick on burgers to make ’em look extra juicy, myself.

        Oh! And the rack steamer to flash-cook a ham from the inside out. Tricky devils….

    • Rachacha says:

      @joecoolest: I agree with squinko, they use real food that has been “staged” to look delicious in the photo. Vaseline, steam, spraying the product with oil to make it look good help, but more importantly, you have someone who is handpicking the best burger and the best bun, and carefully arranging all of the toppings, and gently placing it on a plate for the ohoto shoot. Compare this to the mass production where you grab a bun out of a bag that was shipped cross country, pull a burger out of a warmer, throw on some cheese and some toppings (quickly to minimize the amount to time customers have to wait), wrap it up on a paper wrapper (smearing stray mustard & mayo all over the bun), tossing it in a mucrowave to melt the cheese and throwing it in the food window so that it can be plunked down on a plastic tray all so you can have your burger 23 seconds after you order it causes the product to not look exactly like the photo.

      In a previous life, I worked in a large bakery, and occasionally a photographer would come and take product off of the assembly line before it had been handled by a human, and shoved into the shipping container. The food always looked different when it was fresh, and before it was shipped hundreds or thousands of miles…but the taste never changed.

      • West Coast Secessionist says:

        @Rachacha: To be fair to JIB, there are no patties sitting on “warmers,” and no microwaves involved in the preparation of burgers there (although if they still have Chili Cheese Fries or Bacon Cheddar Potato Wedges, those are melted in the micro.)

        No restaurant that I know of uses a microwave to melt cheese on a burger. The meat is plenty warm enough to do that.

        /Used to work there and still eat there when I get the chance.

  5. lpranal says:

    I’m not normally the anti-preservative / pro-organic type, but ever since I started making my pizza from scratch, I’ve lost my “tolerance” for frozen pizza. Someone made one of the rising-crust frozen pizzas and I felt like crap, with a nasty artificial taste in my mouth all afternoon.

    Seriously folks, once you have real pizza, it’s tough to go back

    • nakedscience says:

      @lpranal: …okay? I’ve had real pizza. I also still enjoy frozen pizza quite a bit. Seriously, folks, not everyone has the same tastes.

      • lpranal says:

        @nakedscience: just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with frozen pizza, I used to live off it- but after not having it for 6 months to a year, I notice all these weird, unpleasant flavors. It’s probably just me.

    • HIV 2 Elway says:

      @lpranal: I’m with you, local pizza joint or home grilled pizza is all I’ll eat. Domino’s and 4 cheese Tony’s were great when I was making $50 a week in college, now I won’t touch that swill.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @HIV 2 Elway: I’m guessing there are a lot of Italian guys named Tony, and that Tony’s in your context is a chain? I have a local pizza place named Tony’s NY Pizza that is amazing.

        • HIV 2 Elway says:

          @pecan 3.14159265: Nt, the 4 cheese Tony’s frozen pizza. Best dollar I could spend when I was poor.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            @HIV 2 Elway: Gotcha. When I was a poor college kid (well, poor by socialization. All of my friends were poor, so I saved money because none of them could afford to go out, so I didn’t either) we ate lots and lots of baked potatoes. We never did frozen pizza because we didn’t have an oven and it was a pain to heat up mini pizzas…and they were disgusting. But you really can’t beat microwave baked potatoes for cheap college food. Starches fill you up, give you fuel, and 10 lb. bags make really good door stops.

            • wheresmymind says:

              @pecan 3.14159265: Right on. $20 worth of potatoes, rice, sour cream and hot sauce could literally feed me for a semester. Well, that and about $200 worth of beer :-)

    • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @lpranal: Nice peel. Named Emma per chance? What do you use for the stone?

    • Josh Stevenson says:

      homebrew pizza can’t be matched! Except perhaps in Italy.

    • unobservant says:

      @lpranal: I slaughter and grind my own cows after processing their milk. I even grow my own wheat and whatever sesame comes from for my buns! Take THAT, Jack in the Box!

    • Overheal says:

      @lpranal: Yep. I got the bread/dough maker at home, if I want to drop $20 on a pizza I just buy some ingredients and spend 2 hours in the kitchen. Presto. Much better.

      • moosetoga says:

        @Overheal: So it costs you $20 and two hours to make one pizza? We’ve got a gourmet pizza shop down the street that I consider expensive, but their pizza’s amazing and it costs less than that. Plus you have to clean dishes and stuff afterward… damn. I’m sad for your wasted life.

        • HIV 2 Elway says:

          @moosetoga: It only takes two hours of your time is you stand there and watch the dough rise.

          • moosetoga says:

            @HIV 2 Elway: OK, fine. But $20? Still expensive, and still way more of a pain in the ass than ordering from a decent pizza shop.

            • pecan 3.14159265 says:

              @moosetoga: When I made my own pizza, it was closer to $12, not $20. I used a lot of veggies, different cheeses too. The biggest expense overall was buying the cheese (about $15 of different kinds of cheese) but since not all of it went onto one pizza, the cost was much lower.

              I’m guessing the cost was $20 because it was loaded with a ton of ingredients and perhaps the ingredients purchased were not on sale, or were used in its entirety.

              For instance, you could place these things on a pizza:

              Mushrooms ($2 a box)
              Mozzarella cheese ($7 for 1.5 pounds)
              Pepperoni ($3.50 for a 16 oz. bag)
              Green peppers ($2 a pound)
              Pizza sauce ($4 for 15 oz. jar)

              And you’d be approaching $20…but only if you used all of the mushrooms and all of the cheese. It’s much closer to about $10 because you probably aren’t going to use a pound of pepperoni, the entire jar of pizza sauce and 1.5 pounds of cheese.

              It gets cheaper if you multitask sauces. For instance, Tutturosso makes really amazing tomato sauce with basil, and it’s good as a marinara sauce and as a pizza sauce.

            • Sean Masters says:

              @moosetoga: Making a great pizza napoletana should cost somewhere around $5, and that’s if you’re starting without any ingredients at home. If you buy flour and yeast in bulk, grow your own tomatoes, and only really buy the mozza, you’re talking $1-2 per pizza.

            • lpranal says:

              @moosetoga: the most expensive thing in my pizza is $4 cacique mozzarella from walmart that makes two pies. my costs per ‘za:

              flour, salt, yeast: about 80 cents worth, I use the good stuff. yeast is free (grow my own)
              water: free, I use a brita, so maybe like .05
              San marzano tomatoes: $2.50 a can, imported. makes at least two, i freeze the extra sauce
              herbs: i payed for soil and seeds… i don’t know maybe .25 cents
              roma tomatoes, garlic: wal mart’s finest, about 1.00 total
              pepperoni, when i feel like it: 85 cents

              total cost, adding in 75 cents for stupid things like electricity

              total cost (conservatively high)… $6.10. I suppose I could buy a freschetta or something, but there’s really no comparison. Pain in the ass? some could say that, but once you get everything figured out… it’s actually enjoyable and relaxing, but I love to cook. to each his own!

    • zibby says:

      @lpranal: The obligatory I-make-my-own-pizza comment in response to any post with the word “pizza” in it? That’s a big checkeroo, good buddy!

    • veg-o-matic says:

      It’s true. I practically grew up on frozen pizzas and now must make excuses for mr. o-matic to make his giant batches of Italian-family-recipe pizza from scratch.

      That Italian half of him can fling a pizza crust and make a sauce like you would not believe.

      The Irish half… just drinks and is hirsute.

      Although I’m not above a delicious, greasy Tofutti frozen pizza from time to time.

    • ElizabethD says:


      Please bring that pizza to my place of work [in “Exorcist” Satan voice] RIGHT NOW.


  6. nucwin83 says:

    Hah, reminds me of working at Papa Johns years ago and they had the “Perfect 10” pizza on a poster, which is what we were supposed to aspire to.

    Problem is, the thing looked like a wax replica.

    Never expect your food to look exactly like the advertisement. There are way too many variables, and particularly when it comes to fast food, the people making the food are more than likely not going to care that the burger is squished. Do you want to stare at your food or eat it? Cynical yes, but you have less disappointment that way.

  7. GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

    Anytime I think about food looking like it is in the pictures, it reminds me of the fast food scene in “Falling Down”.

  8. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Is that the same burger? I don’t see a yellow process-cheese-food-slice.

  9. VA_White says:

    Please use caution when opening your pizza box as contents may have shifted during flight. We know you have a choice when eating frozen pizza and we appreciate you choosing 365 Organic today. Thank you and have a nice meal.

  10. novacthall says:

    I can’t speak for all Jack in the Boxes (Jacks in the Box? Do we pluralize the Jacks or the Boxes? Deep…), but the one near me in Simpsonville, SC is consistently excellent in both “picture reproduction” and in the quality of food. Them, and the adjacent Hardee’s are top notch, and my wife and I never really get that horribly dirty “I’m eating at a fast food restaurant and it IS NOT okay” feeling.

    They spoil me, they really do. And now you’ve gone and made me hungry for a roastburger when I went out of my way to bring a sammich to work today. Thanks, Consumerist! =)

    • josephbloseph says:

      @novacthall: I’d pluralize it “Jack in the Box restaurants.”

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @novacthall: If you were going by accuracy, it would probably be Jacks in the Boxes, because Jack in the Boxes implies one Jack in several boxes, which is grisly and unlikely to happen. If you say Jacks in the Box, you imply there is more than one Jack in one box, which is also false. You want to imply there are multiple restaurants…so Jacks in the Boxes.

      I’m overthinking this one :-P I’ve had a lot of coffee this morning.

    • MrEvil says:

      @novacthall: I’ve eaten at Jack’s in the Killeen area and the one in Sweetwater Texas. Every time I go there my burger always looks almost exactly like the picture and tastes fine. Kinda wish someone would put a Jack in the Box in my town. Sure would give Whataburger a run for their money.

  11. bobert says:

    You mean there are people left in America who believe the glurge they’re buying actually will look like those fantasy beauty shots in the ads? How quaint!

  12. AngryK9 says:

    What’s the big deal? This kind of thing has been going on since commercial advertising started. If someone hasn’t realized it by now…

    • Radi0logy says:

      @AngryK9: The point is not that this is new. The point is that its high time someone finally called shenanigans on them for doing this

    • Porcelina says:

      @AngryK9: Yeah, women and minorities have been oppressed since…forever. Why stop it now?

      Now, I know that the oppression of women and people of color in no way compare the photos of fast food, but the “logic” you use is the same. Just because something has been going on for a long time does not make it right, or acceptable.

  13. DashTheHand says:

    When I used to live in a region that had Jack-in-the-Box, I’d get an ultimate cheeseburger once a week at least. They never looked like the tragedy above, in fact, they were pretty spot on with the actual ad photo.

    Damnit JitB, come to the northeast!

    • donjumpsuit says:

      @DashTheHand: I agree with DashtheHand. Out of all the chains, I thought Jack had the best put together burgers (I had high hopes for wendys but they fall short) *also In and Out really can’t be considered, as they are a cut above. I am on the west coast. BTW, if you want a really good fast food burger, get the sirloin burger from jack (not mini).

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      @DashTheHand: Jack in the Boxes… Waffle Houses… Hardees… Popeye’s…


      In the Northeast, we miss out on all the good stuff. I wanna go back to N.C.

  14. Blueskylaw says:

    I once went into a Subway sandwich shop and asked the guy how long it would take to make me a sandwich that looked like the picture on the wall, he said over half an hour.

  15. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    If you ever get the chance go to Harvey’s (almost everywhere in Canada). The burger looks just the way you want it to look because they build it right in front of you. You say what goes on it and how much. I love the dill pickle Harvey’s uses and always get a huge pile of it on the burger. When they aren’t busy you can often get a side of dill pickle for no extra charge. …mmmmmm… it really is good dill pickle.

    Yes, the buns sometimes get a little deflated when the burger gets wrapped up… but, mmmmmm the dill pickle!


  16. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    That flat burger still looks good to me. Then again, I’m very hungry.

  17. NotATool says:

    “You cannot has this cheezburger.”


  18. exploringearth says:

    I would like to comment on Emily’s problem with her frozen pizza. I will preface this by saying that I am an employee of Whole Foods in Denver CO.

    Since the pizza didn’t meet her expectations we would be happy to give her store credit for the purchase price if she still has the box. However, if she doesn’t have the box anymore, I ask her to talk with a team member when she goes back to the store. Tell them that you were unsatisfied with your last purchase and the details of the problem and we can give you a different pizza to try out.

    As a company, we really care about our customers and we always do what we can to help. If she would like to get in touch with me directly so I can take care of the problem myself then I am willing to help her out as well.

    Thank You,

  19. lpranal says:

    @nakedscience: actually I never said it’s organic… just that i’m not normally the type to buy into the whole organic thing. Although, the crust is made with organic flour (the only stuff I could find that’s unbleached, unbromided in bread flour) and I “grow” my own sourdough culture (never have to buy yeast, more flavor). I also grow my own basil / oregano because it’s easy, cheap, and I don’t have to go shopping when I want to make pizza. who a seemingly innocuous subject like pizza could be such a polarizing subject! /unapologetic pizza snob

    @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: funny you should ask… I bought it at cooks corner, who sources it locally from a guy that makes it from local beechwood in his garage. For a stone I use a great big piece of travertine I got at menards (home depot equivalent) for like 6 bucks. It gets ungodly hot and when I put it just above the heating element in my electric oven, and blisters the bottom nicely. I can give you more details about my process if you like.

  20. ManiacDan says:

    Why ds th cnsmrst cntn t pst ths ‘strs?’ f crs cll phn pctr f hmbrgr cnstrctd by hng-vr 15 yr ld s gng t lk crppy cmprd t th mrktng mgs f th prdct. Tht brgr DS lk lk th mrktng pctr. Tw bns, tw ptts, tw pcs f chs, n th sm rdr. Jst bcs n f thm s sqshd nd tkn n $12 cmr nstd f $1,200 n dsn’t mn nythng. vry tm s n f ths psts fl lk brngng lght nd my nc cmr t th lcl McDnld’s nd tkng pctr wrthy f prntng.

    • bornonbord says:

      @ManiacDan: Do it. Please. Send it in to


      Make it happen.

      Then we’ll see in HQ detail how shitty the burgers are.

    • RonDiaz says:

      @ManiacDan: Agreed. Do it to it.

    • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @ManiacDan: Do you HONESTLY know what goes into making/taking food pictures? Here’s some hints/tips/facts.

      The food shown in the ad must be real. However, you can pretty much do anything/use anything for accessories.

      Hamburgers are only seared on the outside for filming.
      The ketchup your see is real ketchup, but is triple strained to get it like a thick paste and is applied by syringe.
      Usually they take at least 3-4 dozen rolls to find the perfect “set(s)” of one whole bun.
      Cheese is melted with a heat gun to get it drape like that.
      Lettuce is like the buns, and they usually take 2-3 heads to find the perfect pieces. They are usually then sprayed with a glycerin mix to get that water droplet look.

      So it’s not the camera, it’s the prep. I believe Consumerist did a nice article on how many boxes of cereal it takes to take one photo of a bowl.

      • pop top says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: Like I said up a bit, they also iron whole turkeys to make them look juicy and delicious.

        I have to admit, I love all of the tricks that they’ve come up with to make the food look the way they do. A lot of it is just insane.

      • Cybrczch says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: I remember somewhere years ago a story about food stylists doing an ice cream shoot – cartons and cartons of ice cream were scooped and from those they selected a few ‘perfect’ scoops that were stored in the freezer. While they set up the shoot, they checked lighting camera angles etc using a ‘stunt’ scoop of mashed potatoes, then when it was all ready, they pulled out the ‘star’ and got their shot

        • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

          @Cybrczch: Usually the “stunt” ice cream is a more like a playdoh/marzipan thing, such as when they are doing a Jell-O commercial.

          @squinko: From what I have seen, they use a liquid smoke type solution to brown the skin. They then make slices, and use a steam wand, for things like curtains, to “cook” both sides of the slice, then fold it back up and pretend to “cut” the meat and show the slice.

      • ManiacDan says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: Obviously the marketing image is fixed up in such a way to make the burger look better than it really should be. I just don’t understand the fascination with showing side-by-side comparisons of “professional food photographer” vs “some dude.” This particular burger was squished, yes, but the marketing picture isn’t misleading at all. I’ve seen burgers that look just like that. There’s no fake veggies or fake condiments at all in that picture. The fact that someone paid $1.50 for a cheeseburger and it wasn’t assembled as carefully as a Mercedes isn’t news, it wouldn’t even be worthy of mentioning while you were eating it.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @ManiacDan: Please do back up your complaint with an experiment of your own. No doubt the results will be interesting!

  21. lpranal says:

    @lpranal: @Sean Masters: there’s other “hidden” costs, but yeah, you’re right. the cost is actually ridiculously low compared to how good the end result is.

  22. mattarse says:

    “Clearly this would NOT have happened on Blake’s watch.”

    –Someone at Jack in the Box needs to hook Blake up with a customer relations job!

  23. Spinfusor says:

    The only time I’ve ever been to a Jack in the Box the burger was okay, but the place smelled like a dirty bathroom.

    Five Guys makes much better burgers than McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box, and even Nathan’s.

  24. grapedog says:

    I have to say that Whataburger has the best tasting/worst looking burgers I’ve ever eaten when drunk and hungry. I’m also positive that being drunk and hungry had absolutely no effect on my opinion or recollection.

  25. kazinstrife says:

    Where are you people getting burgers from that they look like they’ve been sat on? I go to any of the 3 Wendy’s in my area on a more regular basis than I should and all my sandwiches looks like…..sandwiches. Granted, not like the advertisements, but certainly edible and not squooshed.

  26. sashazur says:

    People, it is called ADVERTISING. The whole point of advertising is to make you want to buy mundane stuff by making it seem amazing and wonderful. If it’s not a fantasy food photo, then it’s flowery words, beautiful music, or impossibly good looking and thin people eating your disgusting processed food-like items.

  27. Antonio Rodriguez says:

    Don’t eat that pizza.

    It has thawed and then has been refrozen, possibly from being left on a loading dock. I’ve gotten frozen pizza like that before, and luckily noticed the mold post bake.

    Take it back to the store for an exchange or refund.