Fast Food Ads Are Often Opposite Of Reality

Last week the overwhelming majority of readers told us that while fast food ads needn’t match the actual product exactly, but the food should at least be recognizable. Dario submitted a project showing cases in which fast food companies most definitely didn’t live up to this standard.

Pictured here is Dario’s myth vs. reality findings on Jack in the Box. In his post he also takes on Burger King and Taco Bell.

How bad does a fast food order have to look before you ask for a refund?

Fast Food Burger Sizes [Alphaila]

Previously: How Closely Does Fast Food Need To Resemble The Ad Photo?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Levk says:

    ok that pic there is refund city or maybe just false advertisement charges >> that is 2 different products!!! >

    • Wombatish says:

      Jack in the Box has -always- done that, and the ones on the sign look good at 1am and you just have to remind yourself that that flat bullshit is what you get.

      Jack in the Box tacos are the most egregious example I can think of off the top of my head (they are really, really bad) but I’m sure there are others.

      • midniteslayr says:

        Actually, Jack in the Box tacos are one of the healthiest menu options at the place. They use soy meat and if you ask for no cheese, then you have a full on veggie option.

        • JRam says:

          Not to burst your bubble, but primary ingredient for the filling is beef.

          From the Jack in the box web site.
          “Beef Regular Taco Filling Ingredients: Beef, Water, Textured Vegetable Protein (Soy Flour, Caramel Color), Defatted Soy Grits, Seasoning (Chili Pepper, Maltodextrin, Spices, Wheat Flour, Salt, Dry Garlic, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Corn and Wheat Gluten, Monosodium Glutamate, Dry Onion, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Succinic Acid), Salt, Tomato Paste, Worcestershire Sauce (Distilled Vinegar, Molasses, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Caramel Color, Garlic Powder, Sugar, Spices, Tamarind, Natural Flavor, Sulfiting Agent). Tortillas Ingredients: Ground Corn, Water, Lime. Contains Soy, Wheat”

          • borgia says:

            there are ways around that with little effort.
            Product 1. 51% filler and 49% beef
            Product 2. 34% beef 33% Filler made from X and 33%percent filler made from Y

            Just because a product lists meat as its main ingredient doesn’t mean that it has more meat than a product with meat as its second ingredient.

          • AndroidHumanoid says:

            OMG. Nasty, just nasty!!!!

        • crazydavythe1st says:

          I wish that were true. They could have some sort of positive health claim if that were the case. Instead, they do contain “beef” – although to me that’s a stretch. I think if you were to be completely accurate, you’d have to call it “fatty beef slurry mixed with TVP chunks to give a ‘beef’ texture”

  2. hewhoroams says:

    If you expect anything different than the 2nd picture, you’re either new to food or incredibly naive.

  3. tkates says:

    We all know that the advertised food isn’t truly edible, but even if the restaurants tried to imitate it, they wouldn’t be able to package it the way they do or get it out of the kitchen as fast as they do now.

    As long as no ingredients are missing and the food tastes good, I’m happy.

  4. VOIDMunashii says:

    If I want something that even remotely resembles the picture then I go to a sit-down restaurant. With fast food I am content as long as it tastes okay and is filling.

    • zandar says:

      all the restaurants that serve food i think is truly delicious (i therefore patronize), i could care less how it looks, to be honest. Presentation is nice, but I would never sacrifice flavor for the sake of presentation. In the end i really don’t care: I like fresh and simple and obvious signs of care in the flavor combinations and the state of the ingredients. that’s about all I’m looking for in my dining out experiences.

      I’d think most people would realize restaurants are simply manipulating you with images like this. Then again, I don’t watch much commercial TV, who I suspect is mostly to blame for this problem. Thanks to this change in my life, I no longer make dining choices based on my Pavlovian response to perfectly wet, blemish-free, painstakingly sliced chunks of food colliding into each other rapturously in slow motion. Y’all should try it!

  5. Magspie says:

    Jack in the Box tacos are fried. I don’t like them, but a lot of people really love them that way. They don’t look fried in the fake picture which seems odd to me.

    • jpmoney says:

      I am still not sure if it is a good or bad thing when they put the lettuce in the taco *before* frying the thing. Its extra crunchy since the tacos themselves have a 10-15 minute edible-time-span.

      When you go to JiTB for tacos, you know what you are (and are not) getting. They should just remove all pictures of them at all stores.

      • swearint says:

        I like Jack in the Box tacos, though I don’t really consider them tacos. More like a deep-fried pouch of meat paste. I know, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but they hold a certain nostalgia for me, mainly because we don’t have Jack in the Box here in Alabama.

  6. zegota says:

    I actually love Jack in The Box tacos, but yeah, they look nothing like the ads, since I’m pretty sure they are deep fried.

    • George4478 says:

      Plus the ad uses the wide, flat-bottom taco shells to make the tacos appear bigger. The actual tacos do not.

    • diasdiem says:

      Yeah, they’re greasy and filled with… something. But sometimes they’re just exactly what you want.

  7. xnihilx says:

    What really irritates me with fast food ads is the BLATANT false images produced. Let’s say cut the burger and split it and make it look bigger. How can they get away with that?

    • Sian says:

      upside: if you have tiny baby hands, you can make good money having your picture taken holding these food items. Your bitty hands will make them look huge!

      Also on the other side, huge-handed people are often the choice for product pictures of smartphones.

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        I am clearly in the wrong business and should actually be a hand model. My ring size (on my wedding finger) is size 3.

        If any ad agencies are watching, I am availible!

  8. Mr. Spy says:

    I’m the first one to say that fast food people lie on their pictures. But that Whopper has been staged. I’m sorry, I’ve never had a whopper that looked that bad. It looks purposely smooshed and soggy? I’ve never had a soggy whopper. *unless I spilled a coke on it*. Yea, they have had many other problems, but me thinkst this guy might be hamming it up a bit.
    *cough* hamming it up. *crickets*

    /That’s not to say he’s wrong, it’s just a type of problem I have never seen. Especially since that Taco Bell taco is exactly correct.

    • Conformist138 says:

      He mentioned that he only bought one burger and that he felt it was particularly bad, even for a “reality” image. He thinks they normally look a *bit* better than that.

    • Conformist138 says:

      He mentioned that he only bought one burger and that he felt it was particularly bad, even for a “reality” image. He thinks they normally look a *bit* better than that.

    • JuanHunt says:

      I’ve been served Whoppers just like that. The local BK lets them cook under the IR lights until the lettuce tastes like feet. I always order burgers special so that they are at least a little more fresh.

    • Quantumpanda says:

      When I buy a Whopper, it pretty much always looks like that. Maybe not quite so smooshed, but not far from it. Good thing I choose fast food on taste instead of appearance.

  9. XianZomby says:

    Those JIB tacos are among the best fast food products in the world — right up there with White Castle, Lion’s Choice, Imo’s Pizza and McRibb. Incidently, there’s not a hint of sarcasm here at all.

    I don’t care what the picture looks like. My mouth has been blind since 1973.

  10. slim150 says:

    why the long face, mr. wopper?

  11. wrbwrx says:

    The Taco Bell taco’s are akin to Patrick Swayze and his Brother.

    The Burger King whoppers are akin to the Arnold and Danny Devito in the Movie Twins.

  12. akieran says:

    The ethical, and possibly legal, line here is clear. All of these restaurant chains have written policies telling their store operators EXACTLY have to make each food item; right down to the weight of the lettuce put on each burger. They often have special utensils that dispense the exact amount of product. During the photographing process it’s okay to, for example, rearrange the lettuce any way they want. But changing the quantity, type, color, or quality of ingredients is FRAUD.

    • Geekybiker says:

      You do realize that most food photography isn’t of actual food, right? Real food doesn’t hold up well under lights, etc so normally they use substitutes.

  13. zandar says:

    when i was a kid, i knew i could rely on Jack in the box tacos to be little sealed packages of savory, greasy love with hardly a vegetable in sight. They may feel compelled to compete with taco bell’s al fresco menu, but they and other companies do themselves a disservice for those of us who know the food’s unhealthy and DON’T CARE!!

  14. MitchEvious says:

    Just saying- Never ONCE had a Taco Bell Taco look that bad EVER. And we buy a lot of tacos at work on the overnight crew.

    • Punchy says:

      I agree, I eat a lot of Taco bell & have never seen anything as skimpy as these photos. I think the photographer is the one committing fraud!

      • Mark702 says:

        Doubtful. I used to eat Taco Bell maybe 2x a month, and have gotten ones that were clearly worse than picture. Even sometimes with no lettuce, sometimes on like 3 strands of cheese, and some with almost no beef. I now make my own at home from real cheese not the plastic kind, nice green lettuce not the scraps of iceburg, and quality grass fed beef. It’s sooo much tastier and I get better hot sauces too. I can make a ripoff of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch for about 1.25 or so vs the 2.40 TB charges, so it’s cheaper even with the better ingredients!

  15. Trai_Dep says:

    How can something so fatty and salty be so lacking in volume and mass?

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    Those that are shrugging off the second, real picture with a “it’s junk food – what did you expect?” are missing the point.
    It’s not that the real “food” is so visually unappealing.
    It’s that the promotional pictures used in ads is so completely divorced from reality. That is what Corporate controls, and that’s where they fail.

  17. superfluousK says:

    Those tacos are %100 pure deep fried delicious death.

  18. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Wasn’t there a site somewhere that did these comparisons?

  19. dg says:

    OK, it’s JACK IN THE BOX – I’ve been avoiding that crap since I was 2 and they had some outbreak. I think my mother classified it as a “Pig sutsz restaurant”… They’ve had other outbreaks caused by them as well… They’re the original salmonella provider…

    • iesika says:

      That was a really long time ago, and if I recall, possibly the fault of a distributor that they don’t use anymore. All I know is, Jack in the Box will give me an egg sandwich at any time of the day, and it’s got an actual freshly cooked egg in it. Every other fast food place that does breakfast gives you microwaved egg ‘patties’ with the approximate texture of packing peanuts, and most of those only do breakfast for a few hours. I got an egg sandwich from Burger King once in which the “egg” was still frozen in the middle.

      For a buck fifty, I can get a croissant with a fried egg and some cheese. That’s about as good as it gets for vegetarian junk food on the go. Their stuffed jalapenos don’t hold a candle to Sonic’s, though.

  20. DPGumby says:

    Is it just me or does the cheese in the Jack in the Box tacos look detached? It seems like it is either outside of the shell or photo-shopped in.

    Frankly, I would be more disturbed if the food did always look exactly like the marketing photos.

  21. Winfield says:

    Good work Dario.

  22. valthun says:

    That jack In the Box image looks like their “super” taco, I don’t know if they still offer that one anymore though. But it had more filling. But their tacos are frozen and deep fried then lettuce and cheese is added.

  23. Froggmann says:

    Every time I see a story like this or get a fast food burger I always think of this scene in the movie “Falling Down”

    (Fast forward to 3:50).

    Yea get it your way, on their timetable by their standards.

  24. axiomatic says:

    Look guys… as nasty as those tacos look in real life, if anything you are doing here causes Jack in the Box to change those tacos in any way I’m coming after all of you. Those nasty ass tacos are my “hangover cure” and I ask that you please just leave them alone. ;-)

  25. NumberSix says:

    If Jack-in-the-box tacos looked like the ad, they probably wouldn’t taste as good.

  26. DrXym says:

    I think there should be a simple law governing picturing food. If a premises advertises food to look a certain way either instore or on a website, a customer should be entitled to ask for it to be prepared exactly like the picture. If they don’t get food exactly like the picture they should be offered it for free. Trading standards officers can enforce the law and deliver large fines for non compliance.

    If this happened you can guarantee stores would stop lying so blatantly in their advertising.

  27. shenaniganz08 says:

    haha love it

  28. Darwin says:

    I would restrict food advertising images to be limited to actual selections taken from what they are publicly offering for sale. The food would either begin to look like the advertising or those ads would vanish altogether.

  29. thisistobehelpful says:

    And they’re soy protein! I friggin love jib tacos though.

  30. Captain Packrat says:

    They may look like crap, but they’re DAMN good.

  31. NewsMuncher says:

    I have this issue with sonic’s wraps.
    the image shows chopped up chicken and chopped up tomato with lots of lettuce in a wrap.
    what i’ve gotten both times at two different locations has been two whole chicken fingers, two whole tomatoes and maybe ten individual little pieces of shredded lettuce huddled out of sight in the middle of the wrap.

  32. E-Jungle says:

    When I follow the Alphaila link it asks me for a password…

  33. bohemond says:

    To Geekybiker (for some reason I can’t respond to your comment directly):
    “You do realize that most food photography isn’t of actual food, right? Real food doesn’t hold up well under lights, etc so normally they use substitutes.”

    This is incorrect. Advertising laws are quite strict in that the product being photographed or filmed must be the actual product. In other words, if the product is corn flakes, they must use actual corn flakes from actual boxes of corn flakes you can buy in the stores. They are allowed to used the best-looking examples of those corn flakes, and everything else is the shot can be fake (thus the ‘milk’ in which those corn flakes sit is often made from white glue) but the product being marketed has to be genuine.

    • iesika says:

      They can do all kinds of things to it, though. Burger King paints stripes on their burgers for photoshoots. Food is frequently frozen while they’re taking the pictures. I seem to recall something about toppings not having to be real, too, as they can be considered part of the staging.

  34. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Don’t have Jack in the Box around here…as far as getting tacos that look like what they do on the ad, haven’t seen any problem with either Taco Bell or Taco John’s.

    I do remember when BK tried to offer tacos…they were pathetic. So I’d guess that maybe if you want tacos, go to a place who’s primary business is tacos?

  35. iesika says:

    This article links (twice) to a password protected site.

  36. jeffpiatt says:

    this normally happens to photograph food they normally build an facsimile version that will photograph better even if it’s non edible or not even close to the production product. for ice creme products they have to make an substance that looks like the ice creme on film but will not melt under the heavy lights.

  37. rtwest says:

    “How bad does a fast food order have to look before you ask for a refund?”

    You expect THAT MUCH from your fast food? When you shop for clothes, do you expect to develop chiseled pecs and abs and have a size 2 girlfriend with shiny blond hair, big boobs, and a natural but beautiful face materialize on your arm? Oh, well that doesn’t happen, so that’s obviously false advertising! Get a refund for those $90 jeans!

    Please. If anyone goes to a FAST FOOD restaurant expecting beautiful, commercial-ready food, then you need a reality check.

  38. Papa Midnight says:

    Practically all fast food restaurants have been doing this for years.

  39. crbullseye says:

    Show me one fast food joint where their food matches their ads!

  40. 2 Replies says:

    Password protected site. Nice.
    Also, from the loos of the rest of his site Dario seems to be the worst choice if you want a ANY semblance of a rational comparison.

  41. IraAntelope says:

    aren’t ALL ads the opposite of reality? especially political infomercials…

  42. some.nerd says:

    That photo reminds me of BK’s brief stint with fryolated tacos back in ’02… 2 for $1, kinda gross-looking, greasy as hell, and I actually kind of enjoyed them.