Creating A Burger Optimized For Photos, Not For Eating

McDonald’s Canada is currently in the midst of a fascinating marketing campaign called “Your Questions.” They’ve solicited questions from the public about McDonald’s products, and are….actually answering most of them, clearly and honestly. Sure, there’s still some marketing speak in there–a questioner who wonders why products are so high in fat and calories is asked, “Have you tried our Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait yet?” but the overall goal appears to be clearing up misconceptions and urban legends about McDonald’s products. Which is where this video of food stylists creating the Platonic ideal of a quarter pounder with cheese comes in.

Isabel in Toronto asked, “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” and received this video in response:

Behind the scenes at a McDonald’s photo shoot [YouTube]


Edit Your Comment

  1. shepd says:

    So stop thinking McDonald’s are total assholes. At least they are honestly showing you what they do.

    • PHRoG says:

      I heard Hitler once did something to make himself look good to the public masses. So stop thinking he’s a total asshole. At least he honestly hated millions of people.


      • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

        Thank you Mr. Godwin!

        • shepd says:

          Nahh, don’t let that guy ruin the argument. I’m happy to argue against stupidity when I have the time. :) It’s sorta fun.

          • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

            Isn’t Godwin’s law about every argument eventually bringing up Nazi Germany, not so much that anyone loses the argument as a result?

            (the game)

      • shepd says:

        In fact, I’ve been using that argument for years to prove the futility in hate crime laws. If you want to push the horrible movement underground where you can’t see what is festering and let it eventually blow up in your faces, it’s the way to go.

        That man would have been much more successful if we’d pressured him to do everything underground. It was his openness about his dastardly plans that let the world know what was going on so we could take him down.

        • iesika says:

          Hate crime laws only effect people who are actually committing crimes, though. It’s not criminalization of speech, or disenfranchisement of a minority or political group. Whether we think they’re good or bad, hate crime laws are just increased sentences based on motivation. If I get in an argument with someone and s/he punches me in the face, that’s assault. If someone punches me in the face solely because I belong to a protected class, they get punished extry.

      • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

        This practice is common knowledge to anyone with at least two functioning brain cells. I guess the Consumerist propaganda drones had to meet their “big corporation vilification” quota somehow.

    • Coffee says:

      Talk about a false dichotomy (and before anyone even commented, no less)…

      1. I’m not sure who is calling McDonalds total assholes. They’re a megacorporation, and they’re going to do assholish things that are in-line with many of the other megacorporations, but they’re not evil in the same way that – say – Bank of America is evil.

      2. The company can still be assholish and have good people working for it…even good divisions. Companies like Exxon hire environmentalists all the time because they want to work on cleaning up their image, or at least appearing to. Those individuals often do great things on behalf of a company that many think is evil. It happens.

      I don’t know why I spent so much time answering that.

      • shepd says:

        A reasonable argument, although I do have to say, having watched the full video, McDonald’s didn’t spend much time explaining the “why” behind it, other than to say they want people to see all the condiments.

        Environmentalists hired by companies tend to spend a lot more on the why and a lot less on the what.

        And, from my experience on this site, I’d say about 40 – 50% of the people here are calling McDonald’s assholes. Hell, the comment below yours is a Hitler comparison. Just search and I’m sure you’ll find lots of examples, it’s not an unusual thing here.

        • CrazyEyed says:

          We all know the reason why. Anytime you want to show of a product or service, you get it photo worthy. If lets say you ran a car delership, do you take a photo fresh as it’s coming off the truck? No, you get it in the lot, remove some cars, maybe open the hood or the doors, make sure its clean and snap the photo so that it looks attractive and appealing for visitors in person or online.

          Why do you think before people get their picture taken they get fresh haircuts, iron their clothes, get fresh clothes, put on makeup, etc etc? It’s all about image – and in advertising and/or marketing – image is everything. The answer is quite obvious but I wouldn’t expect a megacorporation like McDonalds to release a manual to explain everyone’s nit-picky questions.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        I don’t know either, but I appreciate the longer, detailed responses even more than the brief sarcastic ones. So thank you.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    I once went to a Subway store and asked the guy how long would it take to make me a sandwich that looked like the advertisement (you know, a foot tall, a foot wide, and a foot deep) and he said at least half an hour.

    • Coffee says:

      It sounds from your description like you’re ordering the super secret “sandwich cube” that doesn’t appear on the menu. So yeah…it may take a little longer.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        That’s probably why the six foot three man who looked like a cybernetic organism with living tissue over a metal endoskeleton reached his hand out to me and said: Come with me if you want to live.

  3. Rebecca K-S says:

    That was pretty cool to watch.

  4. u1itn0w2day says:

    I’ve seen customers complain that their burger didn’t match the photo many a time at various fast food places. The consumer lesson 101, product rarely matches the photo.

  5. farcedude2 says:

    I remember seeing a similar video in home-ec in junior high, many years ago, and it appears they’ve decided to be more honest – in the old video, barely any of the ‘ingredients’ were the same, and some weren’t even food (I think the condiments especially weren’t, same with the ‘ice cream’ they used, iirc). Glad to see they’re being more upfront. I probably still won’t eat there, but it does make me feel a little better about the world.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      I feel like I’ve read that if it’s the actual product you’re advertising/selling, it has to be the product you use in photos. So on cereal boxes, they use their cereal, but the milk often isn’t actually milk.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Isn’t Elmer’s Glue the standard stand-in for milk in advertisements?

        • farcedude2 says:

          Right, I remember that now, that was one of the things they replaced.

        • Skeptic says:

          Typically, you can fake the stuff that you aren’t selling. But if you are showing *your* food, it needs to be made with real food, otherwise it is false advertising.

      • farcedude2 says:

        You know, I think you (and Nigerian Prince) are right, it was the extra stuff like the milk that they faked. Thanks for jogging the memory (it needs help occasionally).

      • Jillia says:

        Often times it’s Elmer’s glue. Much thicker and brighter white than regular old milk.

        Seriously, is this whole “why does food look better in photos” new and lost on people? I don’t mean to sound like a know it all jerk, but I’ve know this for YEARS. Why does this stuff surprise people? Would you have a picture taken of you when you just rolled out of bed? No, you shower, put on a nice outfit, makeup, do your hair, etc. It’s about presenting yourself (or in this case, a product) in the best possible light.

    • flyingember says:

      US video or Canada video? each country has different laws

    • who? says:

      I’ve been involved in food photography a couple of times. We used the actual ingredients and made the actual dishes, but everything was cooked (and then arranged and lighted) to make it look the best in the photo, regardless of whether or not the outcome was actually edible. One example was that the chicken on the plate was just barely cooked far enough to make the outside turn color. It looked bigger and juicier that way.

      Fast food has the additional problem of what the wrapper does to it after the food is made. So people who are expecting fast food to look just like the photos are being ridiculous.

  6. Kahlidan says:

    See, this is what I’m talking about. Turn around, look at that-see what I mean? It’s plump, it’s juicy, it’s 3 inches thick. Now, look at this…sorry, miserable, squashed thing. Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture? Anybody? Anybody at all?

  7. Daverson says:

    I’m a little surprised that so many people have never heard of food stylists before.

    • LMA says:

      Yes, I remember back in the late 70s or early 80s seeing some kind of piece on TV (maybe it was that Sunday morning show they used to have where the slow talking dude would travel America and find some meek weirdo doing some simple meek weirdo thing …) where they showed how this was done, and what stuck with me all these years was that every time you see a picture of ice cream, it’s actually mashed potato with food coloring. And ice is plastic resin.

  8. Willow01 says:

    Still reminds me of the Buy Me That episode on HBO all those years ago with the food makeup artist

  9. spartan says:

    That was great how they melted the cheese for the model burger. Now if only the restaurants would do that with their burgers.

  10. homehome says:

    I remember some article years ago when someone who did this for a job, made food look great and he made a very good living doing it.

  11. Jack Doe says:

    That picture is awesome and a half. I’m imaginging a McDouble, roiding itself up.

  12. RedOryx says:

    I worked at a McDonalds in high-school and was on shift at time when they were filming a commercial for some new sandwich (This was 15 years ago, can’t remember what it was), and we had a food stylist on set. She used real food, but was very, very, very particular about which items. So they would give her a selection of beef patties and buns, etc., to choose from to make the sandwich that appeared in the commerical for less than 1 second.

    • nishioka says:

      Arch Deluxe maybe.

      And it’s sad that I remember that.

      • Sweet Revenge says:

        Ah yes, totally forgot about the Arch Deluxe! I was thinking of a McD.L.T….

        • LBD "Nytetrayn" says:

          I partook in the program mentioned in the OP, asking if they could bring the Arch Deluxe back for a limited time, a la McRib.

          They just told me that it’s not on their menu at this time. Well thanks a lot, I knew that already. =(

  13. dush says:

    Unfortunately the extra honesty doesn’t make their products taste good.

    • Craige says:

      In my entire list of problems I have with fast food, taste doesn’t appear once.

      I think fast food TASTES delicious, but I avoid it for many, many other reasons.

  14. 5up Mushroom says:

    This is so refreshing to see! Honesty in marketing! Yes. More of this, please, corporations. This reminds me of the Sweden/Twitter campaign, minus the anti-semitic and crazy tweets.

  15. drblair says:

    There are folks within the food advertising world called “Food Stylists” who specialize explicitly on how food looks and make a bundle doing it. Perfect example is the Cheese Pull Guy. Creates perfect shots of a slice of pizza being pulled.

  16. akirabass says:

    It’s cool to see McDonald’s so candid about the styling process. As a photographer, It’s cool to get a glimpse of the lighting setup.

    As far as food styling goes, using all the ingredients of the actual product (or even all edible ingredients) is pretty impressive.

  17. framitz says:

    McDonalds burgers still look like some gray crud, even on TV.
    I always suspected it was cut with oatmeal to look so unappetizing, but they ‘claim’ it’s meat.

    • Kuri says:

      By law, if you claim it’s meat, it has to be meat.

      • guspaz says:

        At least a claim of something being all meat is rather specific. I always cringe when I see a claim like “all-beef patties”, when you consider that only means it all came from some part of a cow. There are a lot of parts of a cow I would rather not like to eat.

  18. El_Fez says:

    Creating A Burger Optimized For Photos, Not For Eating

    That headline implies that McDonalds burgers are for eating in the first place. . . . .

  19. El_Fez says:

    Creating A Burger Optimized For Photos, Not For Eating

    That headline implies that McDonalds burgers are for eating in the first place. . . . .

  20. El_Fez says:

    Also, the photographer says “. . .because we’re in a one-dimensional world, in the camera. . .”

    So tell me more about this one-dimensional camera.

    • Craige says:

      It’s a magical device that can only measure the dimension of time.

      It’s also just his watch. The photographer dropped out of art school.

  21. Jawaka says:

    Even the burger that she bought really doesn’t look like the average Quarter Pounder that one of us would get from a normal McD’s. I’m sure that when you bring a camera team into the store the employees are going a little above and beyond.

    • LoadStar says:

      I dunno. That looks pretty much how most quarter pounders I’ve gotten look. I mean, it’s not exactly hard to get those looking fairly neat, even if they don’t end up looking anything like the ads. I mean, it’s not like the Big Macs, where an average sandwich ends up with half of the contents of the sandwich smeared around the inside of the box.

  22. FourMat says:

    I like and appreciate the honesty here. But doesn’t it strike you as very disingenuous that they are so nonchalant about the message, “Yeah, this is the burger you get, looks pretty crappy right? We know, but, we’re just going to sell you the impossible dream anyway. This is how we do it.”

    My local small town diner doesn’t have the budget enough to hire a food stylist. They put the actual photo of the product you are served on the menu. No disappointments. I appreciate that more than blatant fakery.

    *All* advertising is gratuitous embellishment at best and at worst, mostly downright lies. Make a conscious decision to call bs on every piece of advertising you see, and you’ll be better off.

  23. FourMat says:

    I like and appreciate the honesty here. But doesn’t it strike you as very disingenuous that they are so nonchalant about the message, “Yeah, this is the burger you get, looks pretty crappy right? We know, but, we’re just going to sell you the impossible dream anyway. This is how we do it.”

    My local small town diner doesn’t have the budget enough to hire a food stylist. They put the actual photo of the product you are served on the menu. No disappointments. I appreciate that more than blatant fakery.

    *All* advertising is gratuitous embellishment at best and at worst, mostly downright lies. Make a conscious decision to call bs on every piece of advertising you see, and you’ll be better off.

    • Such an Interesting Monster says:

      So I guess you prefer women who never wear any makeup and run around in oversized sweats all day? Cause all that dressing up and advertising is definitely a blatant lie compared to what they’ll look like the next morning. Amirite?

      • FourMat says:

        As a matter of fact my friend, I married a beautiful woman who never wears any make up. And yes, she does run around in oversized sweats once in a while.

        Frankly, that’s a pretty pathetic and borderline offensive argument ya got there… But I guess I should have expected nothing less when I wade in to the troll factory that is the internet comment section…

        This has nothing to do with whether l LIKE looking at a perfectly manicured and photoshopped burger, it’s about what I expect when I purchase something based on a “representative” image or advertisement of a product.

  24. jiubreyn says:

    I love seeing the tricks they use when filming or taking photos of food for commercials. I remember watching a video about this when I was in high school.

    Steaming a turkey for a fraction of the cook time and basting the rest with soy sauce for the golden brown color.

    Just read about others using a syringe to pump mashed potatoes into bras as padding. Ha!

  25. sirwired says:

    The biggest difference is that the meat is not actually cooked all the way for the photo-burger. It’s seared with the portable griddle, but it isn’t anywhere near done. This keeps it plump and juicy, if utterly inedible.

  26. thenutman69321 says:

    This video is the exception not the rule in advertising. 99% of the stuff you see in ads is not food at all. Cereal commercials the milk is water down glue, beer commercials the beer is watered down motor oil.

  27. Sean says:

    From the Your Questions website:

    How is it that a McDonald’s burger does not rot?

    A: . . . The short answer is that our burgers do rot under the right conditions . . .

    Well if you make the conditions right you can make it do anything.

  28. MrEvil says:

    I understand why the presentation is the way they do it. Looking at the purchased product from the McDonald’s location you can’t tell there’s onions, pickles, ketchup, and mustard on it. You just see bread, cheese, and beef.

    My issue would be if they were constructing the photo-burger out of ingredients that aren’t normally in the restaurant.

  29. skrolnik says:

    Dear McDonalds,
    Why does the food in your video blog, which was prepared at a McDonalds that knows they’re making a burger for the Director of Marketing and her camera crew, look different from what’s in the store?

  30. Overman says:

    Damn you Canada for you politeness and considerate response.
    You are undermining the capatalist principle that “there is a sucker born every minute”.
    But when she says “aboot”, its just too damn cute.

  31. Skittl1321 says:

    I found this really interesting. I actually really like a basic McDonald’s hamburger…you know, once a year.

    To know that the stuff in the pictures is exactly what I will get, it is just repositioned makes me feel better about getting food that looks nothing like the advertisement. As far as eating goes- I wouldn’t want it all lopsided so the front half looks good.

    I’d love for Taco Bell to do a similar explanation. Because theirs look even LESS like the pictures.

  32. CrazyEyed says:

    McDonalds has always been open about their products. There was a whole special on a year or two ago showing how they perform product and taste tests to determine what finally gets put onto the menu as a new item. Showed how they did their research and highlighted the main chefs who designed the food. A little bit of transparency is a good thing, especially when they aren’t obligated to give it.

  33. eldergias says:

    This should be against the law. If I had the power, I would make it illegal to show anything other than an actual product sample available to the public. Want to show a Big Mac? Go buy a Big Mac at McDonald’s then put it in your commercial, no showing staged fake food. The same goes for every other product offered.

    • Jillia says:

      Great idea. And you shall always have your picture taken first thing in the morning.

      Nothing wrong with making the world a little prettier.

  34. momtimestwo says:

    I don’t think she eats any burgers at all.

  35. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    And yet if I showed the cashier a crisp new $5 bill before getting my meal and then paid for my meal with a wrinkled up Monopoly $5 bill I’d get in trouble. Doesn’t seem fair.

  36. Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

    The Japanese have really good “display” foods in their restaurants. They’re absolutely plastic, but they really look like the real thing.

    A friend of mine who was new to “dessert trays” almost tried to grab and eat the little Cheesecake Factory dessert shots one time — they just look so real. :D

  37. ronbo97 says:

    Newsflash: Anyone, and that includes *you* in the back row, can make a burger every bit as good looking as the one in the photo. And as a bonus, you get to eat it. And you can do this in the comfort of your own home. Try it.

  38. Claybird says:

    They need to make newer signs for their Big Mac, I’ve noticed that the patty on the menu looks way too dried out and full of holes to be edible.

  39. psm321 says:

    Zillions Magazine (please bring it back, CR!!!) had a great article on this back in the day.

  40. Buzz says:

    Reminds me of a guy in Taco Bell that said he wanted his item to look just like the photo. I think it was tacos, anyway they remade his and basically added more ingredients.

  41. Rhinoguy says:

    There was a book in the late seventies about the making of a McDonald’s commercial. Several hundred pages explaining the food preparation, the boredom of the actors, the nasty cold food. Gave me an appreciation of how much work is involved in making ordinary stuff look like the food of the Gods.
    I used to go to auto shows with my camera and a bunch of film. It would take me an hour to shoot a single roll of film on one car to make their 1952 Studebaker look like a Rolls Royce. And they paid for the privilege. The joke was the number of clean spots I left on the car, made most owners re-wash the whole thing.

  42. DadCooks says:

    The first rule of marketing: sell the sizzle, not the steak.

  43. Libertas says:


  44. prosumer1 says:

    Canadian accent is so hot!

  45. Nicolaus99 says:

    Respect. It’s nice to have a big business out there not treat you like an idiot. Cheers McDonalds! Thank you for this dose of intelligent transparency.

  46. corridor7f says:

    I don’t eat McDonald’s that much anymore, but back when I did, I was fine with the difference in the tarted up, commercial version and the real deal.

    It’s McDonald’s, not a 4 star bistro. Don’t like? Don’t buy. It’s rotgut anyhow.